ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE
On Sale the First Thursday of Each Month
W. M. CLAYTON, Publisher HARRY BATES, Editor DOUGLAS M. DOLD, Consulting Editor
The Clayton Standard on a Magazine Guarantees:
That the stories therein are clean, interesting, vivid; by leading writers of the day and purchased under conditions approved by the Authors' League of America;
That such magazines are manufactured in Union shops by American workmen;
That each newsdealer and agent is insured a fair profit;
That an intelligent censorship guards their advertising pages.
The other Clayton magazines are:
ACE-HIGH MAGAZINE, RANCH ROMANCES, COWBOY STORIES, CLUES, FIVE-NOVELS MONTHLY, WIDE WORLD ADVENTURES, ALL STAR DETECTIVE STORIES, FLYERS, RANGELAND LOVE STORY MAGAZINE, SKY-HIGH LIBRARY MAGAZINE, WESTERN ADVENTURES, MISS 1930, and FOREST AND STREAM
More Than Two Million Copies Required to Supply the Monthly Demand for Clayton Magazines.
VOL. II, No. 1 CONTENTS APRIL, 1930
COVER DESIGN H. W. WESSOLOWSKI
Painted in Water-colors from a Scene in "Monsters of Moyen."
THE MAN WHO WAS DEAD THOMAS H. KNIGHT 9
As Jerry's Eyes Fell on the Creature's Head, He Shuddered—for the Face Was Nothing but Bone, with Dull-brown Skin Stretched Taut over It. A Skeleton That Was Alive!
MONSTERS OF MOYEN ARTHUR J. BURKS 18
"The Western World Shall be Next!" Was the Dread Ultimatum of the Half-monster, Half-god Moyen.
VAMPIRES OF VENUS ANTHONY PELCHER 47
Leslie Larner, an Entomologist Borrowed from the Earth, Pits Himself Against the Night-flying Vampires That Are Ravaging the Inhabitants of Venus.
BRIGANDS OF THE MOON RAY CUMMINGS 60
Out of Awful Space Tumbled the Space-ship Planetara Towards the Moon, Her Officers Dead, With Bandits at Her Helm—and the Controls Out of Order!
THE SOUL SNATCHER TOM CURRY 101
From Twenty Miles Away Stabbed the "Atom-filtering" Rays to Allen Baker in His Cell in the Death House.
THE RAY OF MADNESS CAPTAIN S. P. MEEK 112
Dr. Bird Uncovers a Dastardly Plot, Amazing in its Mechanical Ingenuity, Behind the Apparently Trivial Eye Trouble of the President.
THE READERS' CORNER ALL OF US 127
A Meeting Place for Readers of Astounding Stories.
Single Copies, 20 Cents (In Canada, 25 Cents) Yearly Subscription, $2.00
Issued monthly by Publishers' Fiscal Corporation, 80 Lafayette St., New York, N. Y. W. M. Clayton, President; Nathan Goldmann, Secretary. Application for entry as second-class mail pending at the Post Office at New York, under Act of March 3, 1879. Title registered as a Trade Mark in the U. S. Patent Office. Member Newsstand Group—Men's List. For advertising rates address E. R. Crowe & Co., Inc., 25 Vanderbilt Ave., New York; or 225 North Michigan Ave., Chicago.
The Man Who Was Dead
By Thomas H. Knight
As Jerry's eyes fell on the creature's head, he shuddered—for the face was nothing but bone, with dull-brown skin stretched taut over it. A skeleton that was alive!
It was a wicked night, the night I met the man who had died. A bitter, heart-numbing night of weird, shrieking wind and flying snow. A few black hours I will never forget.
"Well, Jerry, lad!" my mother said to me as I pushed back from the table and started for my sheepskin coat and the lantern in the corner of the room. "Surely you're not going out a night like this? Goodness gracious, Jerry, it's not fit!"
"Can't help it, Mother," I replied. "Got to go. You've never seen me miss a Saturday night yet, have you now?"
"No. But then I've never seen a night like this for years either. Jerry, I'm really afraid. You may freeze before you even get as far as—"
"Ah, come now, Mother," I argued. "They'd guy me to death if I didn't sit in with the gang to-night. They'd chaff me because it was too cold for me to get out. But I'm no pampered sissy, you know, and I want to see—"
"Yes," she retorted bitingly, "I know. You want to go and bask in that elegant company. Our stove's just as good as the one down at that dirty old store," continued my persistent and anxious parent, "and it's certainly not very flattering to think that you leave us on a night like this to—Who'll be there, anyway?"
"Oh, the usual five or six I suppose," I answered as I adjusted the wick of my lantern, hearing as I did the snarl and cut of the wind through the evergreens in the yard.
"That black-whiskered sphinx, Hammersly, will he be there?"
"Yes, he'll be there, I'm pretty sure."
"Hm-m!" she exclaimed, her expression now carrying all the contempt for my judgment and taste she intended it should. "Button your coat up good around your neck, then, if you must go to see your precious Hammersly and the rest of them. Have you ever heard that man say anything yet? Does he speak at all, Jerry?" Then her gentle mind, not at all accustomed to hard thoughts or contemptuous remarks, quickly changed. "Funny thing about that fellow," she mused. "He's got something on his mind. Don't you think so, Jerry?"
"Y-es, yes I do. And I've often wondered what it could be. He certainly's a queer stick. Got to admit that. Always brooding. Good fellow all right, and, for a 'sphinx' as you call him, likable. But I wonder what is eating him?"
"What do you suppose it could be, Jerry boy?" questioned Mother following me to the door, the woman of her now completely forgetting her recent criticisms and, perhaps, the rough night her son was about to step into. "Do you suppose the poor chap has a—a—broken heart, or something like that? A girl somewhere who jilted him? Or maybe he loves someone he has no right to!" she finished excitedly, the plates in her hand rattling.
"Maybe it's worse than that," I ventured. "P'r'aps—I've no right to say it—but p'r'aps, and I've often thought it, there's a killing he wants to forget, and can't!"
* * * * *
I heard my mother's sharp little "Oh!" as I shut the door behind me and the warmth and comfort of the room away. Outside it was worse than the whistle of the wind through the trees had led me to expect. Black as pitch it was, and as cold as blazes. For the first moment or two, though, I liked the feel of the challenge of the night and the racing elements, was even a little glad I had added to the dare of the blackness the thought of Hammersly and his "killing." But I had not gone far before I was wishing I did not have to save my face by putting in an appearance at the store that night.
Every Saturday night, with the cows comfortable in their warm barn, and my own supper over, I was in the habit of taking my place on the keg or box behind the red-hot stove in Pruett's store. To-night all the snow was being hurled clear of the fields to block the roads full between the old, zigzag fences. The wind met me in great pushing gusts, and while it flung itself at me I would hang against it, snow to my knees, until the blow had gone along, when I could plunge forward again. I was glad when I saw the lights of the store, glad when I was inside.
They met me with mock applause for my pluck in facing the night, but for all their sham flattery I was pleased I had come, proud, I must admit, that I had been able to plough my heavy way through the drifts to reach them. I saw at a glance that my friends were all there, and I saw too that there was a strange man present.
* * * * *
A very tall man he was, gaunt and awkward as he leaned into the angle of the two counters, his back to a dusty show-case. He attracted my attention at once. Not merely because he appeared so long and pointed and skinny, but because, of all ridiculous things in that frozen country, he wore a hard derby hat! If he had not been such a queer character it would have been laughable, but as it was it was—creepy. For the man beneath that hard hat was about as queer a looking character as I have ever seen. I supposed he was a visitor at the store, or a friend of one of my friends, and that in a little while I would be introduced. But I was not.
I took my place in behind the stove, feeling at once, though I am far from being unsociable usually, that the man was an intruder and would spoil the evening. But despite his cold, dampening presence we were soon at it, hammer and tongs, discussing the things that are discussed behind hospitable stoves in country stores on bad nights. But I could never lose sight of the fact that the stranger standing there, silent as the grave, was, to say the least, a queer one. Before long I was sure he was no friend or guest of anyone there, and that he not only cast a pall over me but over all of us. I did not like it, nor did I like him. Perhaps it would have been just as well after all, I thought, had I heeded my mother and stayed home.
Jed Counsell was the one who, innocently enough, started the thing that changed the evening, that had begun so badly, into a nightmare.
"Jerry," he said, leaning across to me, "thinkin' of you s'afternoon. Readin' an article about reincarnation. Remember we were arguin' it last week? Well, this guy, whoever he was I've forgot, believes in it. Says it's so. That people do come back." With this opening shot Jed sat back to await my answer. I liked these arguments and I liked to bear my share in them, but now, instead of immediately answering the challenge, I looked around to see if any other of our circle were going to answer Jed. Then, deciding it was up to me, I shrugged off the strange feeling the man in the corner had cast over me, and prepared to view my opinions.
"That's just that fellow's belief, Jed," I said. "And just as he's got his so have I mine. And on this subject at least I claim my opinion is as good as anybody's." I was just getting nicely started, and a little forgetting my distaste for the man in the corner, when the fellow himself interrupted. He left his leaning place, and came creaking across the floor to our circle around the store. I say he came "creaking" for as he came he did creak. "Shoes," I naturally, almost unconsciously decided, though the crazy notion was in my mind that the cracking I heard did sound like bones and joints and sinews badly in need of oil. The stranger sat his groaning self down among us, on a board lying across a nail keg and an old chair. Only from the corner of my eye did I see his movement, being friendly enough, despite my dislike, not to allow too marked notice of his attempt to be sociable seem inhospitable on my part. I was about to start again with my argument when Seth Spears, sitting closest to the newcomer, deliberately got up from the bench and went to the counter, telling Pruett as he went that he had to have some sugar. It was all a farce, a pretext, I knew. I've known Seth for years and had never known him before to take upon himself the buying for his wife's kitchen. Seth simply would not sit beside the man.
* * * * *
At that I could keep my eyes from the stranger no longer, and the next moment I felt my heart turn over within me, then lie still. I have seen "walking skeletons" in circuses, but never such a man as the one who was then sitting at my right hand. Those side-show men were just lean in comparison to the fellow who had invaded our Saturday night club. His thighs and his legs and his knees, sticking sharply into his trousers, looked like pieces of inch board. His shoulders and his chest seemed as flat and as sharp as his legs. The sight of the man shocked me. I sprang to my feet thoroughly frightened. I could not see much of his face, sitting there in the dark as he was with his back to the yellow light, but I could make out enough of it to know that it was in keeping with the rest of him.
In a moment or two, realizing my childishness, I had fought down my fear and, pretending that a scorching of my leg had caused my hurried movement, I sat down again. None of the others said a word, each waiting for me to continue and to break the embarrassing silence. Hammersly, black-whiskered, the "sphinx" as my mother had called him, watched me closely. Hating myself not a little bit for actually being the sissy I had boasted I was not, I spoke hurriedly, loudly, to cover my confusion.
"No sir, Jed!" I said, taking up my argument. "When a man's dead, he's dead! There's no bringing him back like that highbrow claimed. The old heart may be only hitting about once in every hundred times, and if they catch it right at the last stroke they may bring it back then, but once she's stopped, Jed, she's stopped for good. Once the pulse has gone, and life has flickered out, it's out. And it doesn't come back in any form at all, not in this world!"
I was glad when I had said it, thereby asserting myself and downing my foolish fear of the man whose eyes I felt burning into me. I did not turn to look at him but all the while I felt his gimlety eyes digging into my brain.
Then he spoke. And though he sat right next to me his voice sounded like a moan from afar off. It was the first time we had heard this thing that once may have been a voice and that now sounded like a groan from a closely nailed coffin. He reached a hand toward my knee to enforce his words, but I jerked away.
"So you don't believe a man can come back from the grave, eh?" he grated. "Believe that once a man's heart is stilled it's stopped for good, eh? Well, you're all wrong, sonny. All wrong! You believe these things. I know them!"
* * * * *
His interference, his condescension, his whole hatefulness angered me. I could now no longer control my feeling. "Oh! You know, do you?" I sneered. "On such a subject as this you're entitled to know, are you? Don't make me laugh!" I finished insultingly. I was aroused. And I'm a big fellow, with no reason to fear ordinary men.
"Yes, I know!" came back his echoing, scratching voice.
"How do you know? Maybe you've been—?"
"Yes, I have!" he answered, his voice breaking to a squeak. "Take a good look at me, gentlemen. A good look." He knew now that he held the center of the stage, that the moment was his. Slowly he raised an arm to remove that ridiculous hat. Again I jumped to my feet. For as his coat sleeve slipped down his forearm I saw nothing but bone supporting his hand. And the hand that then bared his head was a skeleton hand! Slowly the hat was lifted, but as quickly as light six able-bodied men were on their feet and half way to the door before we realized the cowardliness of it. We forced ourselves back inside the store very slowly, all of us rather ashamed of our ridiculous and childlike fear.
But it was all enough to make the blood curdle, with that live, dead thing sitting there by our fire. His face and skull were nothing but bone, the eyes deeply sunk into their sockets, the dull-brown skin like parchment in its tautness, drawn and shriveled down onto the nose and jaw. There were no cheeks. Just hollows. The mouth was a sharp slit beneath the flat nose. He was hideous.
"Come back and I'll tell you my yarn," he mocked, the slit that was his mouth opening a little to show us the empty, blackened gums. "I've been dead once," he went on, getting a lot of satisfaction from the weirdness of the lie and from our fear, "and I came back. Come and sit down and I'll explain why I'm this living skeleton."
* * * * *
We came back slowly, and as I did I slipped my hand into my outside pocket where I had a revolver. I put my finger in on the trigger and got ready to use the vicious little thing. I was on edge and torn to pieces completely by the sight of the man, and I doubt not that had he made a move towards me my frayed nerves would have plugged him full of lead. I eyed my friends. They were in no better way than was I. Fright and horror stood on each face. Hammersly was worst. His hands were twitching, his eyes were like bright glass, his face bleached and drawn.
"I've quite a yarn to tell," went on the skeleton in his awful voice. "I've had quite a life. A full life. I've taken my fun and my pleasure wherever I could. Maybe you'll call me selfish and greedy, but I always used to believe that a man only passed this way once. Just like you believe," he nodded to me, his neck muscles and jaws creaking. "Six years ago I came up into this country and got a job on a farm," he went on, settling into his story. "Just an ordinary job. But I liked it because the farmer had a pretty little daughter of about sixteen or seventeen and as easy as could be. You may not believe it, but you can still find dames green enough to fall for the right story.
"This one did. I told her I was only out there for a time for my health. That I was rich back in the city, with a fine home and everything. She believed me. Little fool!" He chuckled as he said it, and my anger, mounting with his every devilish word, made the finger on the trigger in my pocket take a tighter crook to itself. "I asked her to skip with me," the droning went on, "made her a lot of great promises, and she fell for it." His dry jaw bones clanked and chattered as if he enjoyed the beastly recital of his achievement, while we sat gaping at him, believing either that the man must be mad, or that we were the mad ones, or dreaming.
"We slipped away one night," continued the beast. "Went to the city. To a punk hotel. For three weeks we stayed there. Then one morning I told her I was going out for a shave. I was. I got the shave. But I hadn't thought it worth while to tell her I wouldn't be back. Well, she got back to the farm some way, though I don't know—"
* * * * *
"What!" I shouted, springing before him. "What! You mean you left her there! After you'd taken her, you left her! And here you sit crowing over it! Gloating! Boasting! Why you—!" I lived in a rough country. Associated with rough men, heard their vicious language, but seldom used a strong word myself. But as I stood over that monster, utterly hating the beastly thing, all the vile oaths and prickly language of the countryside, no doubt buried in some unused cell in my brain, spilled from my tongue upon him. When I had lashed him as fiercely as I was able I cried: "Why don't you come at me? Didn't you hear what I called you? You beast! I'd like to riddle you!" I shouted, drawing my gun.
"Aw, sit down!" he jeered, waving his rattling hand at me. "You ain't heard a thing yet. Let me finish. Well, she got back to the farm some way or another, and something over a year later I wandered into this country again too. I never could explain just why I came back. It was not altogether to see the girl. Her father was a little bit of a man and I began to remember what a meek and weak sheep he was. I got it into my head that it'd be fun to go back to his farm and rub it in. So I came.
"Her father was trying out a new corn planter right at the back door when I rounded the house and walked towards him. Then I saw, at once, that I had made a mistake. When he put his eyes on me his face went white and hard. He came down from the seat of that machine like a flash, and took hurried steps in the direction of a doublebarrelled gun leaning against the woodshed. They always were troubled with hawks and kept a gun handy. But there was an ax nearer to me than the gun was to him. I had to work fast but I made it all right. I grabbed that ax, jumped at him as he reached for the gun, and swung—once. His wife, and the girl too, saw it. Then I turned and ran."
* * * * *
The gaunt brute before us slowly crossed one groaning knee above the other. We were all sitting again now. The perspiration rolled down my face. I held my gun trained upon him, and, though I now believed he was totally mad, because of a certain ring of truth in that empty voice, I sat fascinated. I looked at Seth. His jaw was hanging loose, his eyes bulging. Hammersly's mouth was set in a tight clenched line, his eyes like fire in his blue, drawn face. I could not see the others.
"The telephone caught me," continued our ghastly story-teller, "and in no time at all I was convicted and the date set for the hanging. When my time was pretty close a doctor or scientist fellow came to see me who said, 'Blaggett, you're slated to die. How much will you sell me your body for?' If he didn't say it that way he meant just that. And I said, 'Nothing. I've no one to leave money to. What do you want with my body?' And he told me, 'I believe I can bring you back to life and health, provided they don't snap your neck when they drop you.' 'Oh, you're one of those guys, are you?' I said then. 'All right, hop to it. If you can do it I'll be much obliged. Then I can go back on that farm and do a little more ax swinging!'" Again came his horrible chuckle, again I mopped my brow.
"So we made our plans," he went on, pleased with our discomfiture and our despising of him. "Next day some chap came to see me, pretending he was my brother. And I carried out my part of it by cursing him at first and then begging him to give me decent burial. So he went away, and, I suppose, received permission to get me right after I was cut down.
"There was a fence built around the scaffold they had ready for me and the party I was about to fling, and they had some militia there, too. The crowd seemed quiet enough till they led me out. Then their buzzing sounded like a hive of bees getting all stirred up. Then a few loud voices, then shouts. Some rocks came flying at me after that, and it looked to me as though the hanging would not be so gentle a party after all. I tell you I was afraid. I wished it was over.
* * * * *
"The mob pushed against the fence and flattened it out, coming over it like waves over a beach. The soldiers fired into the air, but still they came, and I, I ran—up, onto the scaffold. It was safer!" As he said this he chuckled loudly. "I'll bet," he laughed, "that's the first time a guy ever ran into the noose for the safety of it! The mob came only to the foot of the scaffold though, from where they seemed satisfied to see the law take its course. The sheriff was nervous. So cut up that he only made a fling at tying my ankles, just dropped a rope around my wrists. He was like me, he wanted to get it over, and the crowd on its way. Then he put the rope around my neck, stepped back and shot the trap. Zamm! No time for a prayer—or for me to laugh at the offer!—or a last word or anything.
"I felt the floor give, felt myself shoot through. Smack! My weight on the end of the rope hit me behind the ears like a mallet. Everything went black. Of course it would have been just my luck to get a broken neck out of it and give the scientist no chance to revive me. But after a second or two, or a minute, or it could have been an hour, the blackness went away enough to allow me to know I was hanging on the end of the rope, kicking, fighting, choking to death. My tongue swelled, my face and head and heart and body seemed ready to burst. Slowly I went into a deep mist that I knew then was the mist, then—then—I was off floating in the air over the heads of the crowd, watching my own hanging!
"I saw them give that slowly swinging carcass on the end of its rope time enough to thoroughly die, then, from my aerial, unseen watching place, I saw them cut it—me—down. They tried the pulse of the body that had been mine, they examined my staring eyes. Then I heard them pronounce me dead. The fools! I had known I was dead for a minute or two by that time, else how could my spirit have been gone from the shell and be out floating around over their heads?"
* * * * *
He paused here as he asked his question, his head turning on its dry and creaking neck to include us all in his query. But none of us spoke. We were dreaming it all, of course, or were mad, we thought.
"In just a short while," went on the skeleton, "my 'brother' came driving slowly in for my body. With no special hurry he loaded me onto his little truck and drove easily away. But once clear of the crowd he pushed his foot down on the gas and in five more minutes—with me hovering all the while alongside of him, mind you—floating along as though I had been a bird all my life—we turned into the driveway of a summer home. The scientific guy met him. They carried me into the house, into a fine-fitted laboratory. My dead body was placed on a table, a huge knife ripped my clothes from me.
"Quickly the loads from ten or a dozen hypodermic syringes were shot into different parts of my naked body. Then it was carried across the room to what looked like a large glass bottle, or vase, with an opening in the top. Through this door I was lowered, my body being held upright by straps in there for that purpose. The door to the opening was then placed in position, and by means of an acetylene torch and some easily melting glass, the door was sealed tight.
"So there stood my poor old body. Ready for the experiment to bring it back to life. And as my new self floated around above the scientist and his helper I smiled to myself, for I was sure the experiment would prove a failure, even though I now knew that the sheriff's haste had kept him from placing the rope right at my throat and had saved me a broken neck. I was dead. All that was left of me now was my spirit, or soul. And that was swimming and floating about above their heads with not an inclination in the world to have a thing to do with the husk of the man I could clearly see through the glass of the bell.
* * * * *
"They turned on a huge battery of ultra-violet rays then," continued the hollow droning of the man who had been hanged, "which, as the scientist had explained to me while in prison, acting upon the contents of the syringes, by that time scattered through my whole body, was to renew the spark of life within the dead thing hanging there. Through a tube, and by means of a valve entering the glass vase in the top, the scientist then admitted a dense white gas. So thick was it that in a moment or two my body's transparent coffin appeared to be full of a liquid as white as milk. Electricity then revolved my cage around so that my body was insured a complete and even exposure to the rays of the green and violet lamps. And while all this silly stuff was going on, around and around the laboratory I floated, confident of the complete failure of the whole thing, yet determined to see it through if for no other reason than to see the discomfiture and disappointment that this mere man was bound to experience. You see, I was already looking back upon earthly mortals as being inferior, and now as I waited for this proof I was all the while fighting off a new urge to be going elsewhere. Something was calling me, beckoning me to be coming into the full spirit world. But I wanted to see this wise earth guy fail.
"For a little while conditions stayed the same within that glass. So thick was the liquid gas in there at first that I could see nothing. Then it began to clear, and I saw to my surprise that the milky gas was disappearing because it was being forced in by the rays from the lights in through the pores into the body itself. As though my form was sucking it in like a sponge. The scientist and his helper were tense and taut with excitement. And suddenly my comfortable feeling left me. Until then it had seemed so smooth and velvety and peaceful drifting around over their heads, as though lying on a soft, fleecy cloud. But now I felt a sudden squeezing of my spirit body. Then I was in an agony. Before I knew what I was doing my spirit was clinging to the outside of that twisting glass bell, clawing to get into the body that was coming back to life! The glass now was perfectly clear of the gas, though as yet there was no sign of life in the body inside to hint to the scientist that he was to be successful. But I knew it. For I fought desperately to break in through the glass to get back into my discarded shell of a body again, knowing I must get in or die a worse death than I had before.
"Then my sharper eyes noted a slight shiver passing over the white thing before me, and the scientist must have seen it in the next second, for he sprang forward with a choking cry of delight. Then the lolling head inside lifted a bit. I—still desperately clinging with my spirit hands to the outside, and all the time growing weaker and weaker—I saw the breast of my body rise and fall. The assistant picked up a heavy steel hammer and stood ready to crash open the glass at the right moment. Then my once dead eyes opened in there to look around, while I, clinging and gasping outside, just as I had on the scaffold, went into a deeper, darker blackness than ever. Just before my spirit life died utterly I saw the eyes of my body realize completely what was going on, then—from the inside now—I saw the scientist give the signal that caused the assistant to crash away the glass shell with one blow of his hammer.
"They reached in for me then, and I fainted. When I came back to consciousness I was being carefully, slowly revived, and nursed back to life by oxygen and a pulmotor."
* * * * *
The terrible creature telling us this tale paused again to look around. My knees were weak, my clothes wet with sweat.
"Is that all?" I asked in a piping, strange voice, half sarcastic, half unbelieving, and wholly spellbound.
"Just about," he answered. "But what do you expect? I left my friend the scientist at once, even though he did hate to see me go. It had been all right while he was so keen on the experiment himself and while he only half believed his ability to bring me back. But now that he'd done it, it kinda worried him to think what sort of a man he was turning loose of the world again. I could see how he was figuring, and because I had no idea of letting him try another experiment on me, p'r'aps of putting me away again, I beat it in a hurry.
"That was five years ago. For five years I've lived with only just part of me here. Whatever it was trying to get back into that glass just before my body came to life—my spirit, I've been calling it—I've been without. It never did get back. You see, the scientist brought me back inside a shell that kept my spirit out. That's why I'm the skeleton you see I am. Something vital is missing."
He stood up cracking and creaking before us, buttoning his loose coat about his angular body. "Well, boys," he asked lightly, "what do you think of that?"
"I think you're a liar! A damn liar!" I cried. "And now, if you don't want me to fill you full of lead, get out of here and get out now! If I have to do it to you, there's no scientist this time to bring you back. When you go out you'll stay out!"
"Don't worry," he grimaced back to me, waving a mass of bones that should have been a hand contemptuously at me, "I'm going. I'm headed for Shelton." He stalked the length of the floor and shut the door behind him. The beast had gone.
"The dirty liar!" I cried. "I wish—yes—I wish I had an excuse to kill him. Just think of that being loose, will you? A brute who would think up such a yarn! Of course it's all absurd. All crazy. All a lie."
"No. It's not a lie."
* * * * *
I turned to see who had spoken. Hammersly's voice was so unfamiliar and now so torn in addition that I could not have thought he had spoken, had he not been looking right at me, his glittering eyes challenging my assertion. Would wonders never cease? I asked myself. First this outrageous yarn, now Hammersly, the "sphinx," expressing an opinion, looking for an argument! Of course it must be that his susceptible and brooding brain had been turned a bit by the evening we had just experienced.
"Why Hammersly! You don't believe it?" I asked.
"I not only believe it, Jerry, but now it's my turn to say, as he did, I know it! Jerry, old friend," he went on, "that devil told the truth. He was hanged. He was brought back to life; and Jerry—I was that scientist!"
Whew! I fell back to a box again. My knees seemed to forsake me. Then I heard Hammersly talking to himself.
"Five years it's been," he muttered. "Five years since I turned him loose again. Five years of agony for me, wondering what new devilish crimes he was perpetrating, wondering when he would return to that little farm to swing his ax again. Five years—five years."
He came over to me, and without a word of explanation or to ask my permission he reached his hand into my pocket and drew out my revolver, and I did not protest.
"He said he was headed for Shelton," went on Hammersly's spoken thoughts. "If I slip across the ice I can intercept him at Black's woods." Buttoning his coat closely, he followed the stranger out into the night.
* * * * *
I was glad the moon had come up for my walk home, glad too when I had the door locked and propped with a chair behind me. I undressed in the dark, not wanting any grisly, sunken-eyed monster to be looking in through the window at me. For maybe, so I thought, maybe he was after all not headed for Shelton, but perhaps planning on another of his ghastly tricks.
But in the morning we knew he had been going toward Shelton. Scientists, doctors, and learned men of all descriptions came out to our village to see the thing the papers said Si Waters had stumbled upon when on his way to the creamery that next morning.
It was a skeleton, they said, only that it had a dry skin all over it. A mummy. Could not have been considered capable of containing life only that the snow around it was lightly blotched with a pale smear that proved to be blood, that had oozed out from the six bullet holes in the horrid chest. They never did solve it.
There were five of us in the store that night. Five of us who know. Hammersly did what we all wanted to do. Of course his name is not really Hammersly, but it has done here as well as another. He is black-whiskered though, and he is still very much of a sphinx, but he'll never have to answer for having killed the man he once brought back to life. Hammersly's secret will go into five other graves besides his own.
Monsters of Moyen
By Arthur J. Burks
"The Western World shall be next!" was the dread ultimatum of the half-monster, half-god Moyen!
In 1935 the mighty genius of Moyen gripped the Eastern world like a hand of steel. In a matter of months he had welded the Orient into an unbeatable war-machine. He had, through the sheer magnetism of a strange personality, carried the Eastern world with him on his march to conquest of the earth, and men followed him with blind faith as men in the past have followed the banners of the Thaumaturgists.
A strange name, to the sound of which none could assign nationality. Some said his father was a Russian refugee, his mother a Mongol woman. Some said he was the son of a Caucasian woman lost in the Gobi and rescued by a mad lama of Tibet, who became father of Moyen. Some said that his mother was a goddess, his father a fiend out of hell.
But this all men knew about him: that he combined within himself the courage of a Hannibal, the military genius of a Napoleon, the ideals of a Sun Yat Sen; and that he had sworn to himself he would never rest until the earth was peopled by a single nation, with Moyen himself in the seat of the mighty ruler.
Madagascar was the seat of his government, from which he looked across into United Africa, the first to join his confederacy. The Orient was a dependency, even to that forbidden land of the Goloks, where outlanders sometimes went, but whence they never returned—and to the wild Goloks he was a god whose will was absolute, to render obedience to whom was a privilege accorded only to the Chosen.
* * * * *
In a short year his confederacy had brought under his might the millions of Asia, which he had welded into a mighty machine for further conquest.
And because the Americas saw the handwriting on the wall, they sent out to see the man Moyen, with orders to penetrate to his very side, as a spy, their most trusted Secret Agent—Prester Kleig.
Only the ignorant believed that Moyen was mad. The military and diplomatic geniuses of the world recognized his genius, and resented it.
But Prester Kleig, of the Secret Service of the Americas, one of the few men whose headquarters were in the Secret Room in Washington, had reached Moyen.
Now he was coming home.
He came home to tell his people what Moyen was planning, and to admit that his investigations had been hampered at every turn by the uncanny genius of Moyen. Military plans had been guarded with unbelievable secrecy. War machines he knew to exist, yet had seen only those common to all the armies of the world.
And now, twenty-four hours out of New York City, aboard the S. S. Stellar, Prester Kleig was literally willing the steamer to greater speed—and in far Madagascar the strange man called Moyen had given the ultimatum:
"The Western World shall be next!"
The Hand of Moyen.
"Who is that man?" asked a young lady passenger of the steward, with the imperious inflection which tells of riches able to force obedience from menials who labor for hire.
She pointed a bejeweled finger at the slender, soldierly figure which stood in the prow of the liner, like a figurehead, peering into the storm under the vessel's forefoot.
"That gentleman, milady?" repeated the steward obsequiously. "That is Prester Kleig, head of the Secret Agents, Master of the Secret Room, just now returning from Madagascar, via Europe, after a visit to the realm of Moyen."
A gasp of terror burst from the lips of the woman. Her cheeks blanched.
"Moyen!" She almost whispered it. "Moyen! The half-god of Asia, whom men call mad!"
"Not mad, milady. No, Moyen is not mad, save with a lust for power. He is the conqueror of the ages, already ruling more of the earth's population than any man has ever done before him—even Alexander!"
But the young lady was not listening to stewards. Wealthy young ladies did not, save when asked questions dealing with personal service to themselves. Her eyes devoured the slender man who stood in the prow of the Stellar, while her lips shaped, over and over again, the dread name which was on the lips of the people of the world:
* * * * *
Up in the prow, if Prester Kleig, who carried a dread secret in his breast, knew of the young lady's regard, he gave no sign. There were touches of gray at his temples, though he was still under forty. He had seen more of life, knew more of its terrors, than most men twice his age—because he had lived harshly in service to his country.
He was thinking of Moyen, the genius of the misshapen body, the pale eyes which reflected the fires of a Satanic soul, set deeply in the midst of the face of an angel; and wondering if he would be able to arrive in time, sorry that he had not returned home by airplane.
He had taken the Stellar only because the peacefulness of ocean liner travel would aid his thoughts, and he required time to marshal them. Liner travel was now a luxury, as all save the immensely wealthy traveled by plane across the oceans. Now Prester Kleig was sorry, for any moment, he felt, Moyen might strike.
He turned and looked back along the deck of the Stellar. His eyes played over the trimly gowned figure of the woman who questioned the steward, but did not really see her. And then....
"Great God!" The words were a prayer, and they burst from the lips of Prester Kleig like an explosion. Passengers appeared from the lee of lifeboats. Officers on the bridge whirled to look at the man who shouted. Seamen paused in their labors to stare. Aloft in the crow's-nest the lookout lowered his eyes from scouring the horizon to stare at Prester Kleig—who was pointing.
All eyes turned in the direction indicated.
* * * * *
Climbing into the sky, a mile off the starboard beam, was an airplane with a bulbous body and queerly slanted wings. It had neither wheels nor pontoons, and it traveled with unbelievable speed. It came on bullet-fast, headed directly for the side of the Stellar.
"Lower the boats!" yelled Kleig. "Lower the boats! For God's sake lower the boats!"
For Prester Kleig, in that casual turning, had seen what none aboard the Stellar, even the lookout above, had seen. The airplane, which had neither wheels nor pontoons, had risen, as Aphrodite is said to have risen, out of the waves! He had seen the wings come out of the bulbous body, snap backward into place, and the plane was in full flight the instant it appeared.
Prester Kleig had no hope that his warning would be in time, but he would always feel better for having given it. As the captain debated with himself as to whether this lunatic should be confined as dangerous, the strange airplane nosed over and dived down to the sea, a hundred yards from the side of the Stellar. Just before it struck the water, its wings snapped forward and became part of the bulbous body of the thing, the whole of which shot like a bullet into the sea.
* * * * *
Prester Kleig stood at the rail, peering out at the spot where the plane had plunged in with scarcely a splash, and his right hand was raised as though he gave a final, despairing signal.
Of all aboard the Stellar, he only saw that black streak which, ten feet under water, raced like a bolt of lightning from the nose of the submerged but visible plane, straight as a die for the side of the Stellar. Just a black streak, no bigger than a small man's arm, from the nose of the plane to the side of the Stellar.
From the crow's-nest came the startled, terrific voice of the lookout, in the beginning of a cry that must remain forever inarticulate.
The world, in that blinding moment, seemed to rock on its foundations; to shatter itself to bits in a chaotic jumble of sound and of movement, shot through and through with lurid flames. Kleig felt himself hurled upward and outward, turned over and over endlessly....
He felt the storm-tossed waters close over him, and knew he had struck. In the moment he knew—oblivion, deep, ebon and impenetrable, blotted out knowledge.
A roaring, rushing river of chaotic sound, first. Jumbled sound to which Prester Kleig could give no adequate name. But as he tried to analyze its meanings, he was able to differentiate between sounds, and to discover the identity of some.
The river of sound he decided to be the sound of a vibrational explosion of some sort—vibrational because it had that quivery quality which causes a feeling of uneasiness and fret, that feeling which makes one turn and look around to find the eyes boring into one's back—yet multiplied in its intensity an uncounted number of times.
Other sounds which came through the chaotic river of sound were the terrified screaming of the men and women who were doomed. Lifeboats were never lowered, for the reason that with the disintegration of the Stellar, everything inanimate aboard her likewise disintegrated, dropping men and women, crew and passengers, into the freezing waters of the Atlantic.
Prester Kleig dropped with them, only partially unconscious after the first icy plunge. He knew when he floated on the surface, for he felt himself lifted and hurled by the waves. In his half-dream he saw men and women being carried away into wave-shrouded darkness, clawing wildly at nothingness for support, clawing at one another, locking arms, and going down together.
* * * * *
The Stellar, in the merest matter of seconds, had become spoil of the sea, and her crew and passengers had vanished forever from the sight of men. Yet Prester Kleig lived on, knew that he lived on, and that there was an element, too strong to be disbelieved, of reality in his dream.
There was a vibratory sense, too, as of the near activity of a noiseless motor. Noiseless motor! Where had he last thought of those two words? With what recent catastrophe were they associated? No, he could not recall, though he knew he should be able to do so.
Then the sense of motion to the front was apparent—an unnumbered sense, rather than concrete feeling. Motion to front, influenced by the rising and falling motion of mountainous waves.
So suddenly as to be a distinct shock, the wave motion ceased, though the forward motion—and upward!—not only continued but increased.
That airplane of the bulbous body, the queerly slanted wings....
But the glimmering of realization vanished as a sickishly sweet odor assailed his nostrils and sent its swift-moving tentacles upward to wrap themself soothingly about his brain. But the sense of flight, unbelievably swift, was present and recognizable, though all else eluded him. He had the impression, however, that it was intended that all save the most vagrant, most widely differentiated, impressions elude him—that he should acquire only half pictures, which would therefore be all the more terrible in retrospect.
The only impressions which were real were those of motion to the front, and upward, and the sense of noiseless machinery, vibrating the whole, nearby.
Then a distinct realization of the cessation of the sense of flying, and a return, though in lesser degree, of the rising and falling of waves. This latter sensation became less and less, though the feeling of traveling downward continued. Prester Kleig knew that he was going down into the sea again, down into it deeply.... Then that odor once more, and the elusive memory.
Forward motion at last, in the depths, swift, forward motion, though Prester Kleig could not even guess at the direction. Just swift motion, and the mutter of voices, the giving of orders....
* * * * *
Prester Kleig regained consciousness fully on the sands of the shore. He sat up stiffly, staring out to sea. A storm was raging, and the sea was an angry waste. No ship showed on the waters; the mad, tumbled sky above it was either empty of planes or they had climbed to invisibility above the clouds that raced and churned with the storm.
Out of the storm, almost at Prester Kleig's feet, dropped a small airplane. Through the window a familiar face peered at Kleig. A helmeted, begoggled figure opened the door and stepped out.
"Kleig, old man," said the flyer, "you gave me the right dope all right, but I'll swear there isn't a wireless tower within a hundred miles of this place! How did you manage it?"
"Kane, you're crazy, or I am, or...." But Prester Kleig could not go on with the thought which had rushed through his brain with the numbing impact of a blow. He grasped the hand of Carlos Kane, of the Domestic Service, and the yellow flimsy Kane held out to him. It read simply:
"Shipwrecked. Am ashore at—" There followed grid coordinate map readings. "Come at once, prepared to fly me to Washington." It was signed "Kleig."
"Kane," said Kleig, "I did not send this message!"
What more was there to be said? Horror looked out of the eyes of Prester Kleig, and was reflected in those of Carlos Kane. Both men turned, peering out across the tumbled welter of waters.
Somewhere out there, tight-locked in the gloomy archives of the Atlantic, was the secret of the message which had brought Carlos Kane to Prester Kleig—and the agency which had sent it.
Wings of To-morrow
As Prester Kleig climbed into the enclosed passenger pit of the monoplane—a Mayther—his ears seemed literally to be ringing with the drumming, mighty voice of Moyen. But now that voice, instead of merely speaking, rang with sardonic laughter. He had never heard the laughter of Moyen, but he could guess how it would sound.
That airplane of the slanted wings, the bulbous, almost bulletlike fuselage, what of it? It was simple, as Kleig looked back at his memoried glimpse of it. The submarine was a metal fish made with human hands; the airplane aped the birds. The strange ship which had caused the destruction of the Stellar, was a combination fish and bird—which merely aped nature a bit further, as anyone who had ever traversed tropical waters would have instantly recognized.
But what did it portend? What ghastly terrors of Moyen roamed the deeps of the Atlantic, of the Pacific, the oceans of the world? How close were some of these to the United States?
The pale eyes of Moyen, he was sure, were already turned toward the West.
* * * * *
Prester Kleig sighed as he seated himself beside Carlos Kane. Then Kane pressed one of the myriad of buttons on the dash, and Kleig lifted his eyes to peer through the skylight, to where that single press of a button had set in motion the intricate machinery of the helicopter.
A four-bladed fan lifted on a slender pedestal, sufficiently high above the surface of the wing for the vanes to be free of the central propeller. Then, automatically, the vanes became invisible, and the Mayther lifted from the sandy beach as lightly, and far more straightly, than any bird.
As the ship climbed away for the skies, and through the transparent floor the beach and the Atlantic fell away below the ship, a sigh of relief escaped Kleig. This was living! Up here one was free, if only for a moment, and the swift wind of flight brushed all cobwebs from the tired human brain. He watched the slender needle of the altimeter, as it moved around the face of the dial as steadily as the hands of a clock, around to thirty thousand, thirty-five, forty.
Then Carlos Kane, every movement as effortless as the flight of the silvery winged Mayther, thrust forth his hand to the dash again, pressed another button. Instantly the propellers vanished into a blur as the vanes of the helicopter dropped down the slender staff and the vanes themselves fitted snugly into their appointed notches atop the wing.
* * * * *
For a second Carlos Kane glanced at the tiny map to the right of the dash, and set his course. It was a matter of moments only, but while Kane worked, Prester Kleig studied the instruments on the dash, for it had been months since he had flown, save for his recent half-dreamlike experience. There was a button which released the mechanism of the deadly guns, fired by compressed air, all operated from the noiseless motor, whose muzzles exactly cleared the tips of Mayther's wings, two guns to each wing, one on the entering edge, one on the trailing edge, fitted snugly into the adamant rigging.
Four guns which could fire to right or left, twin streams of lead, the number of rounds governed only by the carrying power of the Mayther. Prester Kleig knew them all: the guns in the wings, the guns which fired through the three propellers, and the guns set two and two in the fuselage, to right and left of the pits, which could be fixed either up or down—all by the mere pressing of buttons. It was marvelous, miraculous, yet even as Kleig told himself that this was so, he felt, deep in the heart of him, that Moyen knew all about ships like these, and regarded them as the toys of children.
Kane touched Kleig on the shoulder, signaling, indicating that the atmosphere in the pits had been regulated to their new height, and that they could remove their helmets and oxygen tanks without danger.
* * * * *
With a sigh Prester Kleig sat back, and the two friends turned to face each other.
"You certainly look done in, Kleig," said Kane sympathetically. "You must have been through hell, and then some. Tell me about this Moyen; that is, if you think you care to talk about him."
"Talk about him!" repeated Kleig. "Talk about him? It will be a relief! There has been nothing, and nobody, on my mind save Moyen for weary months on end. If I don't talk to someone about him, I'll go mad, if I'm not mad already. Moyen? A monster with the face of an angel! What else can one say about him? A devil and a saint, a brute whose followers would go with him into hell's fire, and sing him hosannas as they were consumed in agony! The greatest mob psychologist the world has ever seen. He's a genius, Kane, and unless something is done, the Western world, all the world, is doomed to sit at the feet, listen to the commands, of Moyen!
"He isn't an Oriental; he isn't a European; he isn't negroid or Indian; but there is something about him that makes one thing of all of these, singly and collectively. His body is twisted and grotesque, and when one looks at his face, one feels a desire to touch him, to swear eternal fealty to him—until one looks into his pale eyes, eyes almost milky in their paleness—and gets the merest hint of the thoughts which actuate him. If he has a failing I did not find it. He does not drink, gamble...."
"And women?" queried Kane, softly.
* * * * *
Kleig was madly in love with the sister of Kane, Charmion, and this thing touched him nearest the heart, because Charmion was one of her country's most famous beauties, about whom Moyen must already have heard.
"Women?" repeated Kleig musingly, his black eyes troubled, haunted. "I scarcely know. He has no love for women, only because he has no capacity for any love save self-love. But when I think of him in this connection I seem to see Moyen, grown to monster proportions, sitting on a mighty throne, with nude women groveling at his feet, bathed in tears, their long hair in mantles of sorrow, hiding their shamed faces! That sounds wild, doesn't it? But it's the picture I get of Moyen when I think of Moyen and of women. Many women will love him, and have, perhaps. But while he has taken many, though I am only guessing here, he has given himself to none. Another thing: His followers—well, he sets no limits to the lusts of his men, requiring only that every soldier be fit for duty, with a body strong for hardship. You understand?"
Kane understood; and his face was very pale.
"Yes," he said, his voice almost a whisper, "I understand, and as you speak of this man I seem to see a city in ruins, and hordes of men marching, bloodstained men entering houses ... from which, immediately afterward, come the screams of women ... terror-stricken women...."
He shuddered and could not go on for the very horror of the vision that had come to him.
But Kleig stared at him as though he saw a ghost.
"Great God, Carl!" he gasped. "The same identical picture has been in my mind, not once but a thousand times! I wonder...."
Was it an omen of the future for the West?
Deep in his soul Prester Kleig fancied he could hear the sardonic laughter of the half-god, Moyen.
* * * * *
A tiny bell rang inside the dash, behind the instruments. Kane had set direction finders, had pressed the button which signaled the Washington-control Station of the National Radio, thus automatically indicating the exact spot above land, by grid-coordinates, where the Mayther should start down for the landing.
An hour later they landed on the flat roof of the new Capitol Building, sinking lightly to rest as a feather, nursed to a gentle landing by the whirring vanes of the helicopter.
Prester Kleig, surrounded by uniformed guards who tried to shield him from the gaze of news-gatherers crowded there on the roof-top, hurried him to the stairway leading into the executive chambers, and through these to the Secret Chamber which only a few men knew, and into which not even Carlos Kane could follow Prester Kleig—yet.
But one man, one news-gatherer, had caught a glimpse of the face of Kleig, and already he raced for the radio tower of his organization, to blazon to the Western world the fact that Kleig had come back.
A Nation Waits in Dread
As Prester Kleig, looking twice his forty years because of fatigue, and almost nameless terrors through which he had passed, went to his rendezvous, the news-gatherer, who shall here remain nameless, raced for the Broadcasting Tower.
As Prester Kleig entered the Secret Room and at a signal all the many doors behind him, along that interminable stairway, swung shut and were tightly locked, the news-gatherer raced for the microphone and gave the "priority" signal to the operator. Millions of people would not only hear the words of the news-gatherer, but would see him, note the expressions which chased one another across his face. For television was long since an accomplished, everyday fact.
"Prester Kleig, of this government's Secret Service, has just returned to the United Americas! Your informer has just seen him step from the monoplane of Carlos Kane, atop the Capitol Building, and repair at once to the Secret Room, closely guarded. But I saw his face, and though he is under forty, he seems twice that. And you know now what this country has only guessed at before—that he has seen Moyen. Moyen the half-man, half-god, the enigma of the ages. What does Prester Kleig think of this man? He doesn't say, for he dares not speak, yet. But your informer saw his face, and it is old and twisted with terror! And—"
* * * * *
That ended the discourse of the news-gatherer, and it was many hours before the public really understood. For, with a new sentence but half completed, the picture of the news-gatherer faded blackly off the screens in a million homes, and his voice was blotted out by a humming that mounted to a terrific appalling shriek! Some terrible agency, about which people who knew their radio could only guess, had drowned out the words of the news-gatherer, leaving the public stunned and bewildered, almost groping before a feeling of terror which was all the more unbearable because none could give it a name.
And the public had heard but a fraction of the truth—merely that Kleig had come back. It had been the intention of the government to deny the public even this knowledge, and it had; but knowledge of the denial itself was public property, which filled the hearts of men and women all through the Western Hemisphere with nameless dread. And over all this abode of countless millions hovered the shadow of Moyen.
The government tried to correct the impression which the news-gatherer had given out.
"Prester Kleig is back," said the radio, while the government speaker tried, for the benefit of those who could see him, to smile reassuringly. "But there is nothing to cause anyone the slightest concern. He has seen Moyen, yes, and has heard him speak, but still there is nothing to distress anyone, and the whole story will be given to you as soon as possible. Kleig has gone into the Secret Room, yes, but every operative of the government, when discussing business connected with diplomatic relations with foreign powers, is received in the Secret Room. No cause for worry!"
* * * * *
It was so easy to say that, and the speaker realized it, which was why he could but with difficulty make his smile seem reassuring.
"Tell us the truth, and tell us quickly," might have been the voiceless cries of those who listened and saw the face and fidgeting form of the speaker. But the words were not spoken, because the people sensed a hovering horror, a dread catastrophe beyond the power of words to express—and so looked at one another in silence, their eyes wide with dread, their hearts throbbing to suffocation with nameless foreboding.
So eyes were horror-haunted, and men walked, flew, and rode in fear and trembling—while, down in the Secret Room, Prester Kleig and a dozen old men, men wise in the ways of science and invention, wise in the ways of men and of beasts, of Nature and the Infinite Outside, decided the fate of the Nation.
That Secret Room was closed to every one. Not even the news-gatherers could reach it; not even the all-seeing eye of the telephotograph emblazoned to the world its secrets.
But was it secret?
Perhaps Moyen, the master mobster, smiled when he heard men say so, men who knew in their hearts that Moyen regarded other earthlings as earthlings regard children and their toys. Did the eyes of Moyen gaze even into the depths of the Secret Room, hundreds of feet below even the documentary-treasure vaults of the Capitol?
* * * * *
No one knew the answer to the question, but the radio, reporting the return of Kleig, had given the public a distorted vision of an embodied fear, and in its heart the public answered "Yes!" And what had drowned out the voice of the radio-reporter?
No wonder that, for many hours, a nation waited in fear and trembling, eyes filled with dread that was nameless and absolute, for word from the Secret Room. Fear mounted and mounted as the hours passed and no word came.
In that room Prester Kleig and the twelve old men, one of whom was the country's President, held counsel with the man who had come back. But before the spoken counsel had been held, awesome and awe-inspiring pictures had flashed across the screen, invented by a third of the old men, from which the world held no secrets, even the secrets of Moyen.
With this mechanism, guarded at forfeit of the lives of a score of men, the men of the Secret Room could peer into even the most secret places of the world. The old men had peered, and had seen things which had blanched their pale cheeks anew. And when they had finished, and the terrible pictures had faded out, a voice had spoken suddenly, like an explosion, in the Secret Room.
"Well, gentlemen, are you satisfied that resistance is futile?"
Just the voice; but to one man in the Secret Room, and to the others when his numbing lips spoke the name, it was far more than enough. For not even the wisest of the great men could explain how, as they knew, having just seen him there, a man could be in Madagascar while his voice spoke aloud in the Secret Room, where even radio was barred!
The name on the lips of Prester Kleig!
Monsters of the Deep
"Gentlemen," said Prester Kleig as he entered the Secret Room, where sat the scientists and inventive geniuses of the Americas, "we haven't much time, and I shall waste but little of it. Moyen is ready to strike, if he hasn't already done so, as I believe. We will see in a matter of seconds. Professor Maniel, we shall need, first of all, your apparatus for returning the vibratory images of events which have transpired within the last thirty-six hours.
"I wish to show those of you who failed to see it the sinking of the Stellar, on which I was a passenger and, I believe, the only survivor."
Professor Maniel strangely mouse-like save for the ponderous dome of his forehead, stepped away from the circular table without a word. He had invented the machine in question, and he was inordinately proud of it. Through its use he could pick up the sounds, and the pictures, of events which had transpired down the past centuries, from the tinkling of the cymbals of Miriam to all the horror of the conflict men had called the Great War, simply by drawing back from the ether, as the sounds fled outward through space, those sounds and vibrations which he needed.
His science was an exact one, more carefully exact even than the measurement of the speed of light, taking into consideration the dispersion of sound and movement, and the element of time.
The interior of the Secret Room became dark as Maniel labored with his minute machinery. Only behind the screen on the wall in rear of the table was there light.
* * * * *
The voice of Maniel began to drone as he thought aloud.
"There is a matter of but a few minutes difference in time between Washington and the last recorded location of the Stellar. The sinking occurred at ten-thirty last evening you say, Kleig? Ah, yes, I have it! Watch carefully, gentlemen!"
So silent were the Secret Agents one could not even have heard the breathing of one of them, for on the screen, misty at first, but becoming moment by moment bolder of outline, was the face of a storm-tossed sea. The liner was slower in forming, and was slightly out of focus for a second or two.
"Ah," said Professor Maniel. "There it is!"
Through the sound apparatus came the roaring and moaning of a storm at sea. On the screen the Stellar rose high on the waves, dropped into the trough, while spumes of black smoke spread rearward on the waters from her spouting funnels. Figures were visible on her decks, figures which seemed carved in bronze.
In the prow, every expression on his face plainly visible, stood Prester Kleig himself, and as his picture appeared he was in the act of turning.
"Now," said Kleig himself, there in the Secret Room, "look off to the left, gentlemen, a mile from the Stellar!"
A rustling sound as the scientists shifted in their places.
* * * * *
They all saw it, and a gasp burst from their lips as though at a signal. For, as the Stellar seemed about to plunge off the shadowed screen into the Secret Room, a flying thing had risen out of the sea—an airplane with a bulbous body and queerly slanting wings.
At the same time, out of the mouth of the pictured figure of Prester Kleig, clear and agonized as the tones of a bell struck in frenzy, the words:
"Great God! Lower the boats! Lower the boats! For God's sake lower the boats!"
In the Secret Room the real Prester Kleig spoke again.
"When the black streak leaves the nose of the plane, after it has submerged, Professor Maniel," said Kleig softly, "slow your mechanism so that we can see the whole thing in detail."
There came a grunted affirmative from Professor Maniel.
The nose of the pictured plane tilted over, diving down for the surface of the sea.
"Now!" snapped Kleig. "Don't wait!"
Instantly the moving pictures on the screen reduced their speed, and the plane appeared to stop its sudden seaward plunge and to drop down as lightly as a feather. The wings of the thing moved forward slowly, folding into the body of the dropping plane.
"They fold forward," said Kleig quietly, "so that the speed of the plane in the take-off will snap them backward into position for flying!"
* * * * *
No one spoke, because the explanation was so obvious.
Slowly the airplane went down to the surface of the sea, with scarcely a plume of spindrift leaping back after she had struck. She dropped to ten feet below the surface of the water, a hundred yards off the starboard beam of the Stellar, her blunt nose pointing squarely at the side of the doomed liner.
"Now," said Kleig hoarsely, "watch closely, for God's sake!"
The liner rose and fell slowly. Out of the nose of the plane, which had now become a tiny submarine, started a narrow tube of black, oddly like the sepia of a giant squid. Straight toward the side of the liner it went. Above the rail the Secret Agents could see the pictured form of Prester Kleig, hand upraised. The black streak reached the side of the Stellar.
It touched the metal plates, spreading upon impact, growing, enlarging, to right and left, upward and downward, and where it touched the Stellar the black of it seemed to erase that portion of the ship. In the slow motion every detail was apparent. At regular speed the blotting out of the Stellar would have been instantaneous.
Kleig saw himself rise slowly from the vanished rail, turning over and over, going down to the sea. He almost closed his eyes, bit his lips to keep back the cries of terror when he saw the others aboard the liner rise, turn over and over, and fly in all directions like jackstraws in a high wind.
* * * * *
The ship was erased from beneath passengers and crew, and passengers and crew fell into the sea. Out of the depths, from all directions, came the starving denizens of the sea—starving because liners now were so few.
"That's enough of that, Professor," snapped Kleig. "Now jump ahead approximately eight hours, and see if you can pick up that aero-sub after it dropped me on the Jersey Coast."
The picture faded out quickly, the screaming of doomed human beings, already hours dead, called back to apparent living by the genius of Maniel died away, and for a space the screen was blank.
Then, the sea again, storm-tossed as before, shifting here and there as Maniel sought in the immensity of sea and sky for the thing he desired.
"Two hundred miles south by east of New York City," he droned. "There it is, gentlemen!"
They all saw it then, in full flight, eight thousand feet above the surface of the Atlantic, traveling south by east at a dizzy rate of speed.
"Note," said Kleig, "that it keeps safely to the low altitudes, in order to escape the notice of regular air traffic."
No one answered.
The eyes of the Secret Agents were on that flashing, bulbous-bodied plane of the strange wings. It appeared to be heading directly for some objective which must be reached at top speed.
* * * * *
For fifteen minutes the flight continued. Then the plane tilted over and dived, and at an altitude still of three thousand feet, the wings slashed forward, clicking into their notches in the sides of the bulbous body, with a sound like the ratchets on subway turnstiles, and, holding their breath, the Secret Agents watched it plummet down to the sea. It was traveling with terrific speed when it struck, yet it entered the water with scarcely a splash.
Then, for the first time, an audible gasp, as that of one person, came from the lips of the Secret Agents. For now they could see the objective of the aero-sub. A monster shadow in the water, at a depth of five hundred feet. A shadow which, as Maniel manipulated his instruments, became a floating underwater fortress, ten times the size of any submarine known to the Americas.
Sporting like porpoises about this held-in-suspension fortress were myriads of other aero-subs, maneuvering by squadrons and flights, weaving in and out like schools of fish. The plane which had bourne Prester Kleig churned in between two of the formations, and vanished into the side of the motionless monster of the deep.
The striking of a deep sea bell, muted by tons and tons of water, sounded in the Secret Room.
"Don't turn it off, Maniel," said Kleig. "There's more yet!"
And there was, for the sound of the bell was a signal. The aero-subs, darting outward from the side of the floating fortress like fish darting out of seaweed, were plunging up toward the surface of the Atlantic. Breathlessly the Secret Agents watched them.
They broke water like flying fish, and their wings shot backward from their notches in the myriad bulbous bodies to click into place in flying position as the scores of aero-subs took the air above the invisible hiding places of the mother submarine.
* * * * *
At eight thousand feet the aero-subs swung into battle formation and, as though controlled by word of command, they maneuvered there like one vast machine of a central control—beautiful as the flight of swallows, deadly as anything that flew.
The Secret Agents swept the cold sweat from their brows, and sighs of terror escaped them all.
At that moment came the voice, loud in the Secret Room, which Kleig at least immediately recognized:
"Well, gentlemen, are you satisfied that resistance is futile?"
And Kleig whispered the name, over and over again.
It was Prester Kleig, Master of the Secret Room, who was the first to regain control after the nerve-numbing question which, asked in far Madagascar, was heard by the Agents in the Secret Room.
"No!" he shouted. "No! No! Moyen, in the end we will beat you!"
Only silence answered, but deep in the heart of Prester Kleig sounded a burst of sardonic laughter—the laughter of Moyen, half-god of Asia. Then the voice again:
"The attack is beginning, gentlemen! Within an hour you will have further evidence of the might of Moyen!"
Prester Kleig, ordered to Madagascar from the Secret Room, had been merely an operative, honored above others in that he had been one of the few, at that time, ever to visit the Secret Room. Now, however, because he had walked closer to Moyen than anyone else, he assumed leadership almost by natural right, and the men who had once deferred to him took orders from him.
"Gentlemen," he snapped, while the last words of Moyen still hung in the air of the Secret Room, "we must fight Moyen from here. The best brains in the United Americas are gathered here, and if Moyen can be beaten—if he can be beaten—he will be beaten from the Secret Room!"
A sigh from the lips of Professor Maniel. The President of the United Americas nodded his head, as though he too mutely gave authority into the hands of Prester Kleig. The other Secret Agents shifted slightly, but said nothing.
"I have been away a year," said Kleig, "as you know, and many things have come into regular use since I left. Professor Maniel's machine for example, upon which he was working when I departed under orders. There will be further use for it in our struggle with Moyen. Professor, will you kindly range the ocean, beginning at once, and see how many of these monsters of Moyen we have to contend with?"
* * * * *
Professor Maniel turned back to his instruments, which he fondled with gentle, loving hands.
"We have nothing with which to combat the attacking forces of Moyen," went on Kleig, "save antiquated airplanes, and such obsolete warships as are available. These will be mere fodder for the guns, or rays, or whatever it is that Moyen uses in his aero-subs. Thousands, perhaps millions, of human lives will be lost; but better this than that Moyen rule the West! Better this than that our women be given into the hands of this mob as spoils of war!"
From the Secret Agents a murmur of assent.
And then, that voice again, startling, clear, with the slightest suggestion of some Oriental accent, in the Secret Room.
"Do not depend too much, gentlemen," it said, "upon your antiquated warships! See, I am merciful, in that I do not allow you to send them against me loaded with men to be slaughtered or drowned! Professor Maniel, I would ask you to turn that plaything of yours and gaze upon the fleet of obsolete ships anchored in Hampton Roads! In passing, Professor, I venture to guess that the secret of how I am able to talk with you gentlemen, here in your Secret Room, is no secret at all to you. Now look!"
The Secret Agents gasped again, in consternation.
From the white lips of mouselike Maniel came mumbled words, even as his hands worked with lightning speed.
"His machine is simply a variation of my own. And, gentlemen, compatriots, with it he could as easily project himself, bodily, here into the room with us!"
* * * * *
Something like a suppressed scream from one of the men present. A cold hand of ice about the heart of Prester Kleig. But the words of Professor Maniel were limned on the retina of his brain in letters of fire. Suppose Moyen were to project himself into the Secret Room....
But he would not. He was no fool, and even these Secret Agents, most of whom were old and no longer strong, would have torn him limb from limb. But those words of Maniel set whirling once more, and in a new direction, the thoughts of Prester Kleig.
"Mr. President, gentlemen...." It was the voice of Professor Maniel.
All eyes turned again to the screen upon which the professor worked his miracles, which today were commonplaces, which yesterday had been undreamed of. Every Secret Agent recognized the outlines of Hampton Roads, with Norfolk and its towering buildings in the background, and the obsolete warships riding silently at anchor in the roadstead.
For three years they had been there, while a procrastinating Cabinet, Congress and Senate had debated their permanent disposal. They represented millions of dollars in money, and were utterly worthless. Prester Kleig, looking at them now, could see them putting out to sea, loaded with brave-visaged men, volunteering to go to sure destruction to feed the rapacity of Moyen's hordes. Men going out to sea in tubs, singing....
But these ships were silent. No plumes of smoke from their funnels. Like floating mausoleums, filled with dead hopes, shells of past and departed glories.
The beating of waves against their sides could plainly be heard. The anchor chains squeaked rustily in the hawse-holes. Wind sighed through regal, towering superstructures, and no man walked the decks of any one of them.
* * * * *
With bated breath the Secret Agents watched.
Why had Moyen bidden them turn their attention to these shells of erstwhile naval grandeur?
This time no gasps broke from the lips of the Secret Agents. Not even the sound of breathing could be heard. Just the sighing of wind through the superstructures of a hundred ships, the whispering of waves against rusted bulkheads.
Almost imperceptibly at first the towering dreadnought in the foreground began to move! Slowly, the water swirling about her, she backed away from her anchor, tightening the curve of the anchor chain! Water quivered about the point of the chain's contact with the waves!
Quickly the eyes of the Secret Agents swept along the street of ships. The same backward motion, of dragging against their anchor chains, was visible at the bow of each warship!
With not a soul aboard them, the ships were waking into strange and awesome life, dragging at their anchors, like hounds pulling at leashes to be free and away!
"How are they doing it?" It was almost a whisper from the President.
"Some electro-magnetic force, sir!" stated Prester Kleig. "Professor Blaine, that is your province! Please note what is happening, and advise us at once if you see how they are doing it!"
A grunt of affirmation from surly, obese Professor Blaine.
* * * * *
All eyes turned back again to the miracle of the moving ships. One by one, with crashes which echoed and re-echoed through the Secret Room, the anchor chains of the dreadnoughts parted. The ends of them swung from the prows of the warships, while the severed portions splashed into the Roads, and the waters hid them from view.
The great dreadnought in the foreground swung slowly about until her prow was pointed in the direction of the open sea, and though no sea was running, no smoke rose from her funnels, she got slowly, ponderously under way, and started out the Roads. Behind her, in formation, the other ships swung into line.
In a matter of seconds, faster than any of these vessels had ever traveled before, they were racing in column for the open Atlantic. And from the sound apparatus came wails and shrieks of terror, the lamentations of men and women frightened as they had never been frightened before.
The shores behind the moving column of ships was moment by moment growing blacker with people—a black sea of people, whose faces were white as chalk with terror.
But on, out to sea, moved the column of brave ships.
A new note entered into the picture, as from all sides airplanes of many makes swooped in, and swept back and forth over the moving ships, while hooded heads looked out of pits, and faces of pilots were aghast at what they saw.
* * * * *
A ghost column of ships, moving out to sea, speed increasing moment by moment unbelievably. Even now, five minutes after the first dreadnought had started seaward, the wake of each ship spread away on either hand in the two sides of a watery triangle whose walls were a dozen feet high—racing for the shores with all the sullen majesty of tidal waves.
The crowds gave back, and their screams rose into the air in a frightened roar of appalling sound.
Even now, so rapidly did the warships travel, many of the planes could throttle down, so that they flew directly above the heaving decks of the runaway warships.
"Get word to them!" cried Prester Kleig suddenly. "Get word to them that if they follow the ships out to sea not a pilot will escape alive!"
One of the Secret Agents rose and hurried from the Secret Room, traveling at top speed for the first of the many doors enroute to the broadcasting tower from which all the planes could be reached at once. Prester Kleig turned back to the magic screen of Maniel.
The warships, water thrown aside by the lifting thrust of their forefeet in mountains that raced landward with ever-increasing fury, were clearing the Roads and swinging south by east, heading into the wastes of the Atlantic. As they cleared the land, and open water for unnumbered miles lay ahead, the speed of the mighty ships increased to a point where they rode as high on the water as racing launches, and the creaking and groaning of their rusty bolts and spars were a continual paean of protest in the sound apparatus accompanying the showing of the miracle on the screen.
"They're heading straight for the spot where that super-submarine lies!" said the President, and no one answered him.
* * * * *
Prester Kleig, watching, was racing over in his mind what he could recall of his country's armament. Warships were useless, as was being proved here before his eyes. But there still remained airplanes, in countless numbers, which could be diverted from ocean travel and from routine business, to battle this menace of Moyen.
He shuddered as he pictured in his mind's eye the meeting of his country's flower of flying manhood with the monsters of Moyen.
His eyes, as he thought, were watching the racing of those ocean greyhounds, out to sea. They were now out of sight of land, and still some of the planes followed them.
A half hour passed, and then....
The American pilots, in obedience to the radio signals, turning back from this strange phenomenon of the ghost column of capital ships.
Simultaneously, out of the sky dead ahead, dropped the first flight of Moyen's aero-subs.
At the same moment the mysterious power which had dragged the ships to sea was withdrawn, and the warships, with no hands to guide them, swung whither they willed, and floated in as many directions as there were ships, under their forward momentum. There were a score of collisions, and some of the ships were in sinking condition even before the aero-subs began their labors.
* * * * *
The remaining ships floated high out of the water, because they carried no ballast, and from all sides the aero-subs of Moyen settled to the task of destruction—destruction which was simply a warning of what was to come: Moyen's manner of proving to the Americas the fact that he was all-powerful.
"God, what fools!" cried Prester Kleig.
The rearmost of the American aviators had looked back, had seen the first of the aero-subs drop down among the doomed ships. Instantly he turned out to sea again, signalling as he did so to the nearest other planes. And in spite of the radio warning a hundred planes answered that signal and swept back to investigate this new mystery.
"They're going to death!" groaned the President.
"Yes," said Kleig, softly, "but it saves us ordering others to death. Perhaps we may learn something of value as we watch them die!"
"This," said Prester Kleig, as coldly precise as a judge pronouncing sentence of death, "will precipitate the major engagement with Moyen's forces. The fools, to rush in like this, when they have been warned! But even so, they are magnificent!"
The pilots of the aero-subs must instantly have noticed the return of the American pilots, for some of the aero-subs which had dropped to the ocean's surface rose again almost instantly, and swept into battle formation above the drifting hulks of the warships.
The Americans were wary. They drew together like frightened chickens when a hawk hovers above them, and watched the activities of the aero-subs, every move of each one being at the same time visible and audible to the Secret Agents in the Capitol's Secret Room.
The aero-subs which had submerged singled out their particular prey among the floating ships, and the Secret Agents, trying to see how each separate act of destruction was accomplished, watched the aero-sub in the foreground, which happened to be concentrating on the dreadnought which had led the ghost-march of the warships out to sea.
* * * * *
The aero-sub circled the swaying dreadnought as a shark circles a wreck, and through the walls of the aero-sub the watchers in the Secret Room could see the four-man crew of the thing. Grim faced men, men of the Orient they plainly were, coldly concentrating on the work in hand. Their faces were those of men who are merciless, even brutal, with neither heart nor compassion of any kind for weaker ones. One man maneuvered the aero-sub, while the other three concentrated on the apparatus in the nose of the hybrid vessel.
"See," spoke Prester Kleig again, "if you can tell what manner of ray they use, and how it is projected. That's your province, General Munson!"
From the particular Secret Agent named, who was expert for war in the membership of the Secret Room, came a short grunt of affirmation. A few murmured words.
"I'll be able to tell more about it when I see how they operate when they are flying. That black streak under water ... well, I must see it out of the water, and then...."
But here General Munson ended, for the aero-sub which they were especially watching had got into action against the dreadnought.
The aero-sub was motionless and submerged just off the port bow of the dreadnought. The three men inside the aero-sub were working swiftly and efficiently with the complicated but minute machinery in the nose of their transport.
"It can be controlled, then, this ray," said Munson, interrupting himself. "Watch!"
* * * * *
From the nose of the aero-sub leaped, like a streak of black lightning, that ebon agency of death. It struck the prow of the battleship—and the prow, as far aft as the well-deck, simply vanished from sight, disintegrated! It was as though it had never been, and for a second, so swiftly had it happened, the water of the ocean held the impression that portion of the warship had made—as an explosive leaves a crater in the soil of earth!
Then a drumming roar as the sea rushed in to claim its own. The roaring, as of a Niagara, as the waters claimed the ship, rushing down passageways into the hold, possessing the warship with all the invincible, speedy might of the sea.
Mingled with this roaring was the shivering, vibratory sound which Prester Kleig had experienced in his half-dream. The sound was so intense that it fairly rocked the Secret Room to its furthermost cranny.
For a second the dreadnought, wounded to death, seemed to shudder, to hesitate, then to move backward as though wincing from her death blow. It was the pound of the inrushing waters which did it. Then up came the stern of the mighty ship, as she started her last long plunge into the depths.
But attention had swung to another warship, on the starboard beam of which another aero-sub had taken up position. Again the ebon streak of death from her blunt nose, smashing in and through the warship, directly amidships, cutting her in twain as though the black streak had been a pair of shears, the warship a strip of tissue paper.
Up went the prow and the stern of this one, and together, the water separating the two parts as it rushed into the gap, the broken warship went down to its final resting place.
* * * * *
Abruptly Professor Maniel swung back to the American planes which had come back to investigate the activities of the aero-subs, and on the screen, in the midst of the battle formation into which the pilots had swept to hurriedly, the Secret Agents could see the faces of those pilots....
White as chalk with fear, mouths open in gasping unbelief. One man, a pale-faced youth, was the first to recover. He stared around at his compatriots, and plainly through the sound apparatus in the Secret Room came his swift radio signals.
"Attack! Who will follow me against these people?"
His signals were very plain. So, too, were the answers of the other pilots, and the heart of Prester Kleig swelled with pride as he listened to the answering signals—and counted them, discovered that every last pilot there present elected to stay with this youngster, to avenge their country for this contemptuous insult which had been put upon her by the rape of Hampton Roads.