ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE
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VOL. III, No. 1 CONTENTS JULY, 1930
Painted in Water-colors from a Scene in "Earth, the Marauder."
BEYOND THE HEAVISIDE LAYER CAPT. S. P. MEEK 5
For Eighty Vertical Miles Carpenter and Bond Blasted Their Way—Only to Be Trapped by the Extraordinary Monsters of the Heaviside Layer.
EARTH, THE MARAUDER ARTHUR J. BURKS 18
Out of Her Orbit Sped the Teeming Earth—A Marauding Planet Bent on Starry Conquest. (Beginning a Three-part Novel.)
FROM AN AMBER BLOCK TOM CURRY 50
A Giant Amber Block at Last Gives Up Its Living, Ravenous Prey.
THE TERROR OF AIR-LEVEL SIX HARL VINCENT 62
From Some Far Reach of Leagueless Space Came a Great Pillar of Flame to Lay Waste and Terrorize the Earth. (A Novelet.)
THE FORGOTTEN PLANET SEWELL PEASLEE WRIGHT 88
The Authentic Account of Why Cosmic Man Damned an Outlaw World to Be, Forever, a Leper of Space.
THE POWER AND THE GLORY CHARLES W. DIFFIN 104
Sadly, Sternly, the Old Professor Reveals to His Brilliant Pupil the Greater Path to Glory.
MURDER MADNESS MURRAY LEINSTER 109
More and More South Americans Are Stricken with the Horrible "Murder Madness" That Lies in the Master's Fearful Poison. And Bell Is Their One Last Hope as He Fights to Stem the Swiftly Rising Tide of a Continent's Utter Enslavement. (Part Three of a Four-part Novel.)
THE READERS' CORNER ALL OF US 134
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Issued monthly by Publishers' Fiscal Corporation, 80 Lafayette St., New York, N. Y. W. M. Clayton, President: Nathan Goldmann, Secretary. Entered as second-class matter December 7, 1929, at the Post Office at New York, N. Y., under Act of March 3, 1879. Title registered as a Trade Mark in the U. S. Patent Office. Member Newsstand Group—Men's List. For advertising rates address E. R. Crowe & Co., Inc., 25 Vanderbilt Ave., New York; or 225 North Michigan Ave., Chicago.
* * * * *
Beyond the Heaviside Layer
By Capt S. P. Meek
McQuarrie, the City Editor, looked up as I entered his office.
"Bond," he asked, "do you know Jim Carpenter?"
[Sidenote: For eighty vertical miles Carpenter and Bond blasted their way—only to be trapped by the extraordinary monsters of the heaviside layer.]
"I know him slightly," I replied cautiously. "I have met him several times and I interviewed him some years ago when he improved the Hadley rocket motor. I can't claim a very extensive acquaintance with him."
"I thought you knew him well. It is a surprise to me to find that there is any prominent man who is not an especial friend of yours. At any rate you know him as well as anyone of the staff, so I'll give you the assignment."
"What's he up to now?" I asked.
"He's going to try to punch a hole in the heaviside layer."
"But that's impossible," I cried. "How can anyone...."
My voice died away in silence. True enough, the idea of trying to make a permanent hole in a field of magnetic force was absurd, but even as I spoke I remembered that Jim Carpenter had never agreed to the opinion almost unanimously held by our scientists as to the true nature of the heaviside layer.
"It may be impossible," replied McQuarrie dryly, "but you are not hired by this paper as a scientific consultant. For some reason, God alone knows why, the owner thinks that you are a reporter. Get down there and try to prove he is right by digging up a few facts about Carpenter's attempt. Wire your stuff in and Peavey will write it up. On this one occasion, please try to conceal your erudition and send in your story in simple words of one syllable which uneducated men like Peavey and me can comprehend. That's all."
* * * * *
He turned again to his desk and I left the room. At one time I would have come from such an interview with my face burning, but McQuarrie's vitriol slid off me like water off a duck's back. He didn't really mean half of what he said, and he knew as well as I did that his crack about my holding my job with the Clarion as a matter of pull was grossly unjust. It is true that I knew Trimble, the owner of the Clarion, fairly well, but I got my job without any aid from him. McQuarrie himself hired me and I held my job because he hadn't fired me, despite the caustic remarks which he addressed to me. I had made the mistake when I first got on the paper of letting McQuarrie know that I was a graduate electrical engineer from Leland University, and he had held it against me from that day on. I don't know whether he really held it seriously against me or not, but what I have written above is a fair sample of his usual manner toward me.
In point of fact I had greatly minimized the extent of my acquaintance with Jim Carpenter. I had been in Leland at the same time that he was and had known him quite well. When I graduated, which was two years after he did, I worked for about a year in his laboratory, and my knowledge of the improvement which had made the Hadley rocket motor a practicability came from first hand knowledge and not from an interview. That was several years before but I knew that he never forgot an acquaintance, let alone a friend, and while I had left him to take up other work our parting had been pleasant, and I looked forward with real pleasure to seeing him again.
* * * * *
Jim Carpenter, the stormy petrel of modern science! The eternal iconoclast: the perpetual opponent! He was probably as deeply versed in the theory of electricity and physical chemistry as any man alive, but it pleased him to pose as a "practical" man who knew next to nothing of theory and who despised the little he did know. His great delight was to experimentally smash the most beautifully constructed theories which were advanced and taught in the colleges and universities of the world, and when he couldn't smash them by experimental evidence, to attack them from the standpoint of philosophical reasoning and to twist around the data on which they were built and make it prove, or seem to prove, the exact opposite of what was generally accepted.
No one questioned his ability. When the ill-fated Hadley had first constructed the rocket motor which bears his name it was Jim Carpenter who made it practical. Hadley had tried to disintegrate lead in order to get his back thrust from the atomic energy which it contained and proved by apparently unimpeachable mathematics that lead was the only substance which could be used. Jim Carpenter had snorted through the pages of the electrical journals and had turned out a modification of Hadley's invention which disintegrated aluminum. The main difference in performance was that, while Hadley's original motor would not develop enough power to lift itself from the ground, Carpenter's modification produced twenty times the horsepower per pound of weight of any previously known generator of power and changed the rocket ship from a wild dream to an everyday commonplace.
* * * * *
When Hadley later constructed his space flyer and proposed to visit the moon, it was Jim Carpenter who ridiculed the idea of the attempt being successful. He proposed the novel and weird idea that the path to space was not open, but that the earth and the atmosphere were enclosed in a hollow sphere of impenetrable substance through which Hadley's space flyer could not pass. How accurate were his prognostications was soon known to everyone. Hadley built and equipped his flyer and started off on what he hoped would be an epoch making flight. It was one, but not in the way which he had hoped. His ship took off readily enough, being powered with four rocket motors working on Carpenter's principle, and rose to a height of about fifty miles, gaining velocity rapidly. At that point his velocity suddenly began to drop.
He was in constant radio communication with the earth and he reported his difficulty. Carpenter advised him to turn back while he could, but Hadley kept on. Slower and slower became his progress, and after he had penetrated ten miles into the substance which hindered him, his ship stuck fast. Instead of using his bow motors and trying to back out, he had moved them to the rear, and with the combined force of his four motors he had penetrated for another two miles. There he insanely tried to force his motors to drive him on until his fuel was exhausted.
He had lived for over a year in his space flyer, but all of his efforts did not serve to materially change his position. He had tried, of course, to go out through his air locks and explore space, but his strength, even although aided by powerful levers, could not open the outer doors of the locks against the force which was holding them shut. Careful observations were continuously made of the position of his flyer and it was found that it was gradually returning toward the earth. Its motion was very slight, not enough to give any hope for the occupant. Starting from a motion so slow that it could hardly be detected, the velocity of return gradually accelerated; and three years after Hadley's death, the flyer was suddenly released from the force which held it, and it plunged to the earth, to be reduced by the force of its fall to a twisted, pitiful mass of unrecognizable junk.
* * * * *
The remains were examined, and the iron steel parts were found to be highly magnetized. This fact was seized upon by the scientists of the world and a theory was built up of a magnetic field of force surrounding the earth through which nothing of a magnetic nature could pass. This theory received almost universal acceptance, Jim Carpenter alone of the more prominent men of learning refusing to admit the validity of it. He gravely stated it as his belief that no magnetic field existed, but that the heaviside layer was composed of some liquid of high viscosity whose density and consequent resistance to the passage of a body through it increased in the ratio of the square of the distance to which one penetrated into it.
There was a moment of stunned surprise when he announced his radical idea, and then a burst of Jovian laughter shook the scientific press. Carpenter was in his glory. For months he waged a bitter controversy in the scientific journals and when he failed to win converts by this method, he announced that he would prove it by blasting a way into space through the heaviside layer, a thing which would be patently impossible were it a field of force. He had lapsed into silence for two years and his curt note to the Associated Press to the effect that he was now ready to demonstrate his experiment was the first intimation the world had received of his progress.
* * * * *
I drew expense money from the cashier and boarded the Lark for Los Angeles. When I arrived I went to a hotel and at once called Carpenter on the telephone.
"Jim Carpenter speaking," came his voice presently.
"Good evening, Mr. Carpenter," I replied, "this is Bond of the San Francisco Clarion."
I would be ashamed to repeat the language which came over that telephone. I was informed that all reporters were pests and that I was a doubly obnoxious specimen and that were I within reach I would be promptly assaulted and that reporters would be received at nine the next morning and no earlier or later.
"Just a minute, Mr. Carpenter," I cried as he neared the end of his peroration and was, I fancied, about to slam up the receiver. "Don't you remember me? I was at Leland with you and used to work in your laboratory in the atomic disintegration section."
"What's your name?" he demanded.
"Bond, Mr. Carpenter."
"Oh, First Mortgage! Certainly I remember you. Mighty glad to hear your voice. How are you?"
"Fine, thank you, Mr. Carpenter. I would not have ventured to call you had I not known you. I didn't mean to impose and I'll be glad to see you in the morning at nine."
"Not by a long shot," he cried. "You'll come up right away. Where are you staying?"
"At the El Rey."
"Well, check out and come right up here. There's lots of room for you here at the plant and I'll be glad to have you. I want at least one intelligent report of this experiment and you should be able to write it. I'll look for you in an hour."
"I don't want to impose—" I began; but he interrupted.
"Nonsense, glad to have you. I needed someone like you badly and you have come just in the nick of time. I'll expect you in an hour."
* * * * *
The receiver clicked and I hastened to follow his instructions. A ringside seat was just what I was looking for. It took my taxi a little over an hour to get to the Carpenter laboratory and I chuckled when I thought of how McQuarrie's face would look when he saw my expense account. Presently we reached the edge of the grounds which surrounded the Carpenter laboratory and were stopped at the high gate I remembered so well.
"Are you sure you'll get in, buddy?" asked my driver.
"Certainly," I replied. "What made you ask?"
"I've brought three chaps out here to-day and none of them got in," he answered with a grin. "I'm glad you're so sure, but I'll just wait around until you are inside before I drive away."
I laughed and advanced to the gate. Tim, the old guard, was still there, and he remembered and welcomed me.
"Me ordhers wuz t' let yez roight in, sor," he said as he greeted me. "Jist lave ye'er bag here and Oi'll have ut sint roight up."
I dropped my bag and trudged up the well remembered path to the laboratory. It had been enlarged somewhat since I saw it last and, late though the hour was, there was a bustle in the air and I could see a number of men working in the building. From an area in the rear, which was lighted by huge flood lights, came the staccato tattoo of a riveter. I walked up to the front of the laboratory and entered. I knew the way to Carpenter's office and I went directly there and knocked.
"Hello, First Mortgage!" cried Jim Carpenter as I entered in response to his call. "I'm glad to see you. Excuse the bruskness of my first greeting to you over the telephone, but the press have been deviling me all day, every man jack of them trying to steal a march on the rest. I am going to open the whole shebang at nine to-morrow and give them all an equal chance to look things over before I turn the current on at noon. As soon as we have a little chat, I'll show you over the works."
* * * * *
After half an hour's chat he rose. "Come along, First Mortgage," he said, "we'll go out and look the place over and I'll explain everything. If my ideas work out, you'll have no chance to go over it to-morrow, so I want you to see it now."
I had no chance to ask him what he meant by this remark, for he walked rapidly from the laboratory and I perforce followed him. He led the way to the patch of lighted ground behind the building where the riveting machine was still beating out its monotonous cacaphony and paused by the first of a series of huge reflectors, which were arranged in a circle.
"Here is the start of the thing," he said. "There are two hundred and fifty of these reflectors arranged in a circle four hundred yards in diameter. Each of them is an opened parabola of such spread that their beams will cover an area ten yards in diameter at fifty miles above the earth. If my calculations are correct they should penetrate through the layer at an average speed of fifteen miles per hour per unit, and by two o'clock to-morrow afternoon, the road to space should be open."
"What is your power?" I asked.
"Nothing but a concentration of infra-red rays. The heaviside layer, as you doubtless know, is a liquid and, I think, an organic liquid. If I am right in that thought, the infra-red will cut through it like a knife through cheese."
"If it is a liquid, how will you prevent it from flowing back into the hole you have opened?" I asked.
"When the current is first turned on, each reflector will bear on the same point. Notice that they are moveable. They are arranged so that they move together. As soon as the first hole is bored through, they will move by clockwork, extending the opening until each points vertically upward and the hole is four hundred yards in diameter. I am positive that there will be no rapid flow even after the current is turned off, for I believe that the liquid is about as mobile as petroleum jelley. Should it close, however, it would take only a couple of hours to open it again to allow the space flyer to return."
"What space flyer?" I demanded quickly.
"The one we are going to be on, First Mortgage," he replied with a slight chuckle.
* * * * *
"We?" I cried, aghast.
"Certainly. We. You and I. You didn't think I was going to send you alone, did you?"
"I didn't know that anyone was going."
"Of course. Someone has to go; otherwise, how could I prove my point? I might cut through a hundred holes and yet these stiff-necked old fossils, seeing nothing, would not believe. No, First Mortgage, when those arcs start working to-morrow, you and I will be in a Hadley space ship up at the bottom of the layer, and as soon as the road has been opened, two of the lamps will cut off to allow us through. Then the battery will hold the road open while we pass out into space and return."
"Suppose we meet with Hadley's fate?" I demanded.
"We won't. Even if I am wrong—which is very unlikely—we won't meet with any such fate. We have two stern motors and four bow motors. As soon as we meet with the slightest resistance to our forward progress we will stop and have twice the power plus gravity to send us earthwards. There is no danger connected with the trip."
"All the same—" I began.
"All the same, you're going," he replied. "Man alive, think of the chance to make a world scoop for your paper! No other press man has the slightest inkling of my plan and even if they had, there isn't another space flyer in the world that I know of. If you don't want to go, I'll give some one else the chance, but I prefer you, for you know something of my work."
* * * * *
I thought rapidly for a moment. The chance was a unique one and one that half the press men in San Francisco would have given their shirts to get. I had had my doubts of the accuracy of Jim Carpenter's reasoning while I was away from him, but there was no resisting the dynamic personality of the man when in his presence.
"You win," I said with a laugh. "Your threat of offering some of my hated rivals a chance settled it."
"Good boy!" he exclaimed, pounding me on the back. "I knew you'd come. I had intended to take one of my assistants with me, but as soon as I knew you were here I decided that you were the man. There really ought to be a press representative along. Come with me and I'll show you our flyer."
The flyer proved to be of the same general type as had been used by Hadley. It was equipped with six rocket motors, four discharging to the bow and two to the stern. Any one of them, Carpenter said, was ample for motive power. Equilibrium was maintained by means of a heavy gyroscope which would prevent any turning of the axis of its rotation. The entire flyer shell could be revolved about the axis so that oblique motion with our bow and stern motors was readily possible. Direct lateral movement was provided for by valves which would divert a portion of the discharge of either a bow or stern motor out through side vents in any direction. The motive power, of course, was furnished by the atomic disintegration of powdered aluminum. The whole interior, except for the portion of the walls, roof and floor, which was taken up by vitriolene windows, was heavily padded.
* * * * *
At nine the next morning the gates to the enclosure were thrown open and the representatives of the press admitted. Jim Carpenter mounted a platform and explained briefly what he proposed to do and then broke the crowd up into small groups and sent them over the works with guides. When all had been taken around they were reassembled and Carpenter announced to them his intention of going up in a space flyer and prove, by going through the heaviside layer, that he had actually destroyed a portion of it. There was an immediate clamor of applications to go with him. He laughingly announced that one reporter was all that he could stand on the ship and that he was taking one of his former associates with him. I could tell by the envious looks with which I was favored that any popularity I had ever had among my associates was gone forever. There was little time to think of such things, however, for the hour for our departure was approaching, and the photographers were clamoring for pictures of us and the flyer.
We satisfied them at last, and I entered the flyer after Carpenter. We sealed the car up, started the air conditioner, and were ready for departure.
"Scared, Pete?" asked Carpenter, his hand on the starting lever.
I gulped a little as I looked at him. He was perfectly calm to a casual inspection, but I knew him well enough to interpret the small spots of red which appeared on his high cheekbones and the glitter in his eye. He may not have been as frightened as I was but he was laboring under an enormous nervous strain. The mere fact that he called me "Pete" instead of his usual "First Mortgage" showed that he was feeling pretty serious.
"Not exactly scared," I replied, "but rather uneasy, so to speak."
* * * * *
He laughed nervously.
"Cheer up, old man! If anything goes wrong, we won't know it. Sit down and get comfortable; this thing will start with a jerk."
He pulled the starting lever forward suddenly and I felt as though an intolerable weight were pressed against me, glueing me to my seat. The feeling lasted only for a moment, for he quickly eased up on the motor, and in a few moments I felt quite normal.
"How fast are we going?" I asked.
"Only two hundred miles an hour," he replied. "We will reach the layer in plenty of time at this rate and I don't want to jam into it. You can get up now."
I rose, moved over to the observation glass in the floor, and looked down. We were already five or ten miles above the earth and were ascending rapidly. I could still detect the great circle of reflectors with which our way was to be opened.
"How can you tell where these heat beams are when they are turned on?" I asked. "Infra-red rays are not visible, and we will soon be out of sight of the reflectors."
"I forgot to mention that I am having a small portion of visible red rays mixed with the infra-red so that we can spot them. I have a radio telephone here, working on my private wavelength, so that I can direct operations from here as well as from the ground—in fact, better. If you're cold, turn on the heater."
* * * * *
The friction of the flyer against the air had so far made up for the decreasing temperature of the air surrounding us, but a glance at the outside thermometer warned me that his suggestion was a wise one. I turned a valve which diverted a small portion of our exhaust through a heating coil in the flyer. It was hard to realize that I was actually in a rocket space ship, the second one to be flown and that, with the exception of the ill-fated Hadley, farther from the earth than any man had been before. There was no sensation of movement in that hermetically sealed flyer, and, after the first few moments, the steady drone of the rocket motor failed to register on my senses. I was surprised to see that there was no trail of detritus behind us.
"You can see our trail at night," replied Carpenter when I asked him about it, "but in daylight, there is nothing to see. The slight luminosity of the gasses is hidden by the sun's rays. We may be able to see it when we get out in space beyond the layer, but I don't know. We have arrived at the bottom of the layer now, I believe. At any rate, we are losing velocity."
* * * * *
I moved over to the instrument board and looked. Our speed had dropped to one hundred and ten miles an hour and was steadily falling off. Carpenter pulled the control lever and reduced our power. Gradually the flyer came to a stop and hung poised in space. He shut off the power an instant and at once our indicator showed that we were falling, although very slowly. He promptly reapplied the power, and by careful adjustment brought us again to a dead stop.
"Ready to go," he remarked looking at his watch, "and just on time, too. Take a glass and watch the ground. I am going to have the heat turned on."
I took the binoculars he indicated and turned them toward the ground while he gave a few crisp orders into his telephone. Presently from the ground beneath us burst out a circle of red dots from which long beams stabbed up into the heavens. The beams converged as they mounted until at a point slightly below us, and a half-mile away they became one solid beam of red. One peculiarity I noticed was that, while they were plainly visible near the ground, they faded out, and it was not until they were a few miles below us that they again became apparent. I followed their path upward into the heavens.
"Look here, Jim!" I cried as I did so. "Something's happening!"
He sprang to my side and glanced at the beam.
"Hurrah!" he shouted, pounding me on the back. "I was right! Look! And the fools called it a magnetic field!"
Upward the beam was boring its way, but it was almost concealed by a rain of fine particles of black which were falling around it.
"It's even more spectacular than I had hoped," he chortled. "I had expected to reduce the layer to such fluidity that we could penetrate it or even to vaporize it, but we are actually destroying it! That stuff is soot and is proof, if proof be needed, that the layer is an organic liquid."
* * * * *
He turned to his telephone and communicated the momentous news to the earth and then rejoined me at the window. For ten minutes we watched and a slight diminution of the black cloud became apparent.
"They're through the layer," exclaimed Carpenter. "Now watch, and you'll see something. I'm going to start spreading the beam."
He turned again to his telephone, and presently the beam began to widen and spread out. As it did so the dark cloud became more dense than it had been before. The earth below us was hidden and we could see the red only as a dim murky glow through the falling soot. Carpenter inquired of the laboratory and found that we were completely invisible to the ground, half the heavens being hidden by the black pall. For an hour the beam worked its way toward us.
"The hole is about four hundred yards in diameter right now," said Carpenter as he turned from the telephone. "I have told them to stop the movement of the reflectors, and as soon as the air clears a little, we'll start through."
It took another hour for the soot to clear enough that we could plainly detect the ring of red light before us. Carpenter gave some orders to the ground, and a gap thirty yards wide opened in the wall before us. Toward this gap the flyer moved slowly under the side thrust of the diverted motor discharge. The temperature rose rapidly as we neared the wall of red light before us. Nearer we drew until the light was on both sides of us. Another few feet and the flyer shot forward with a jerk that threw me sprawling on the floor. Carpenter fell too, but he maintained his hold on the controls and tore at them desperately to check us.
* * * * *
I scrambled to my feet and watched. The red wall was alarmingly close. Nearer we drove and then came another jerk which threw me sprawling again. The wall retreated. In another moment we were standing still, with the red all around us at a distance of about two hundred yards.
"We had a narrow escape from being cremated," said Carpenter with a shaky laugh. "I knew that our speed would increase as soon as we got clear of the layer but it caught me by surprise just the same. I had no idea how great the holding effect of the stuff was. Well, First Mortgage, the road to space is open for us. May I invite you to be my guest on a little week-end jaunt to the Moon?"
"No thanks, Jim," I said with a wry smile. "I think a little trip to the edge of the layer will quite satisfy me."
"Quitter," he laughed. "Well, say good-by to familiar things. Here we go!"
He turned to the controls of the flyer, and presently we were moving again, this time directly away from the earth. There was no jerk at starting this time, merely a feeling as though the floor were pressing against my feet, a great deal like the feeling a person gets when they rise rapidly in an express elevator. The indicator showed that we were traveling only sixty miles an hour. For half an hour we continued monotonously on our way with nothing to divert us. Carpenter yawned.
"Now that it's all over, I feel let down and sleepy," he announced. "We are well beyond the point to which Hadley penetrated and so far we have met with no resistance. We are probably nearly at the outer edge of the layer. I think I'll shoot up a few miles more and then call it a day and go home. We are about eighty miles from the earth now."
* * * * *
I looked down, but could see nothing below us but the dense cloud of black soot resulting from the destruction of the heaviside layer. Like Carpenter, I felt sleepy, and I suppressed a yawn as I turned again to the window.
"Look here, Jim!" I cried suddenly. "What's that?"
He moved in a leisurely manner to my side and looked out. As he did so I felt his hand tighten on my shoulder with a desperate grip. Down the wall of red which surrounded us was coming an object of some kind. The thing was fully seventy-five yards long and half as wide at its main portion, while long irregular streams extended for a hundred yards on each side of it. There seemed to be dozens of them.
"What is it, Jim?" I asked in a voice which sounded high and unnatural to me.
"I don't know," he muttered, half to me and half to himself. "Good Lord, there's another of them!"
He pointed. Not far from the first of the things came another, even larger than the first. They were moving sluggishly along the red light, seeming to flow rather than to crawl. I had a horrible feeling that they were alive and malignant. Carpenter stepped back to the controls of the flyer and stopped our movement; we hung in space, watching them. The things were almost level with us, but their sluggish movement was downward toward the earth. In color, they were a brilliant crimson, deepening into purple near the center. Just as the first of them came opposite us it paused, and slowly a portion of the mass extended itself from the main bulk; and then, like doors opening, four huge eyes, each of them twenty feet in diameter, opened and stared at us.
"It's alive, Jim," I quavered. I hardly knew my own voice as I spoke.
* * * * *
Jim stepped back to the controls with a white face, and slowly we moved closer to the mass. As we approached I thought that I could detect a fleeting passage of expression in those huge eyes. Then they disappeared and only a huge crimson and purple blob lay before us. Jim moved the controls again and the flyer came to a stop.
Two long streamers moved out from the mass. Suddenly there was a jerk to the ship which threw us both to the floor. It started upward at express train speed. Jim staggered to his feet, grasped the controls and started all four bow motors at full capacity, but even this enormous force had not the slightest effect in diminishing our speed.
"Well, the thing's got us, whatever it is," said Jim as he pulled his controls to neutral, shutting off all power. Now that the danger had assumed a tangible form, he appeared as cool and collected as ever, to my surprise, I found that I had recovered control of my muscle and of my voice. I became aware that the shoulder which Jim had gripped was aching badly, and I rubbed it absently.
"What is it, Jim?" I asked for the third time.
"I don't know," he replied. "It is some horrible inhabitant of space, something unknown to us on earth. From its appearance and actions, I think it must be a huge single-celled animal of the type of the earthly amoeba. If an amoeba is that large here, what must an elephant look like? However, I expect that we'll learn more about the matter later because it's taking us with it, wherever it's going."
* * * * *
Suddenly the flyer became dark inside. I looked at the nearest window, but I could not even detect its outline. I reached for the light switch, but a sudden change in direction threw me against the wall. There was an instant of intense heat in the flyer.
"We have passed the heaviside layer," said Jim. "The brute has changed direction, and we felt that heat when he took us through the infra-red wall."
I reached again for the light switch, but before I could find it our motion ceased and an instant later the flyer was filled with glaring sunlight. We both turned to the window.
We lay on a glistening plain of bluish hue which stretched without a break as far as we could see. Not a thing broke the monotony of our vision. We turned to the opposite window. How can I describe the sight which met our horrified gaze? On the plain before us lay a huge purple monstrosity of gargantuan dimensions. The thing was a shapeless mass, only the four huge eyes standing out regarding us balefully. The mass was continually changing its outline and, as we watched, a long streamer extended itself from the body toward us. Over and around the flyer the feeler went, while green and red colors played over first one and then another of the huge eyes before us. The feeler wrapped itself around the flyer and we were lifted into the air toward those horrible eyes. We had almost reached them when the thing dropped us. We fell to the plain with a crash. We staggered to our feet again and looked out. Our captor was battling for its life.
* * * * *
Its attacker was a smaller thing of a brilliant green hue, striped and mottled with blue and yellow. While our captor was almost formless, the newcomer had a very definite shape. It resembled a cross between a bird and a lizard, its shape resembling a bird, as did tiny rudimentary wings and a long beak, while the scaly covering and the fact that it had four legs instead of two bore out the idea that it might be a lizard. Its huge birdlike beak was armed with three rows of long sharp teeth with which it was tearing at our captor. The purple amoeba was holding its assailant with a dozen of its thrown out feelers which were wrapped about the body and legs of the green horror. The whole battle was conducted in absolute silence.
"Now's our chance, Jim!" I cried. "Get away from here while that dragon has the amoeba busy!"
He jumped to the control levers of the flyer and pulled the starting switch well forward. The shock of the sudden start hurled me to the floor, but from where I fell I was able to watch the battle on the plain below us. It raged with uninterrupted fury and I felt certain of our escape when, with a shock which hurled both Jim and me to the ceiling, the flyer stopped. We fell back to the floor and I reflected that it was well for us that the interior of the flyer was so well padded. Had it not been, our bones would have been broken a dozen times by the shocks to which we had been subjected.
"What now?" I asked as I painfully struggled to my feet.
"Another of those purple amoebas," replied Jim from the vantage point of a window. "He's looking us over as if he were trying to decide whether we are edible or not."
* * * * *
I joined him at the window. The thing which had us was a replica of the monster we had left below us engaged in battle with the green dragon which had attacked it. The same indefinite and ever changing outline was evident, as well as the four huge eyes. The thing regarded us for a moment and slowly moved us up against its bulk until we touched it. Deeper and deeper into the mass of the body we penetrated until we were in a deep cavern with the light coming to us only from the entrance. I watched the entrance and horror possessed my soul.
"The hole's closing. Jim!" I gasped. "The thing is swallowing us!"
"I expected that," he replied grimly. "The amoeba has no mouth, you know. Nourishment is passed into the body through the skin, which closes behind it. We are a modern version of Jonah and the whale, First Mortgage."
"Well, Jonah got out," I ventured.
"We'll try to," he replied. "When that critter swallowed us, he got something that will prove pretty indigestible. Let's try to give him a stomach ache. I don't suppose that a machine-gun will affect him, but we'll try it."
"I didn't know that you had any guns on board."
"Oh yes, I've got two machine-guns. We'll turn one of them loose, but I don't expect much effect from it."
* * * * *
He moved over to one of the guns and threw off the cover which had hidden it from my gaze. He fed in a belt of ammunition and pulled his trigger. For half a minute he held it down, and two hundred and fifty caliber thirty bullets tore their way into space. There was no evidence of movement on the part of our host.
"Just as I thought," remarked Jim as he threw aside the empty belt and covered the gun again. "The thing has no nervous organization to speak of and probably never felt that. We'll have to rig up a disintegrating ray for him."
"What?" I gasped.
"A disintegrating ray," he replied. "Oh yes, I know how to make the fabulous 'death ray' that you journalists are always raving about. I have never announced my discovery, for war is horrible enough without it, but I have generated it and used it in my work a number of times. Did it never occur to you that the rocket motor is built on a disintegrating ray principle?"
"Of course it is, Jim. I never thought of it in that light before, but it must be. How can you use it? The discharge from the motors is a harmless stream of energy particles."
"Instead of turning the ray into powdered aluminum and breaking it down, what is to prevent me from turning it against the body of our captor and blasting my way out?"
"I don't know."
"Well, nothing is. I'll have to modify one of the motors a little, but it's not a hard job. Get some wrenches from the tool box and we'll start."
* * * * *
An hour of hard work enabled us to disconnect one of the reserve bow motors and, after the modifications Jim had mentioned, turn the ray out through the port through which the products of disintegration were meant to go. When we had bolted it in place with an improvised coupling, Jim opened the vitriolene screen which held in our air and turned to his control board.
"Here goes," he said.
He pulled the lever to full power and with a roar which almost deafened us in the small flyer, the ray leaped out to do its deadly work. I watched through a port beside the motor. There was a flash of intense light for an instant and then the motor died away in silence. A path to freedom lay open before us. Jim started one of the stern motors and slowly we forced our way through the hole torn in the living mass. When we were almost at the surface, he threw in full power and we shot free from the amoeba and into the open. Again we were stopped in midair and drawn back toward the huge bulk. The eyes looked at us and we were turned around. As the ray swung into a position to point directly toward one of the eyes, Jim pulled the controlling lever. With the flash of light which ensued, the eye and a portion of the surrounding tissue disappeared. The amoeba writhed and changed shape rapidly, while flashes of brilliant crimson played over the remaining eyes. Again the ray was brought into play and another of the eyes disappeared. This was evidently enough for our captor, for it suddenly released us and instantly we started to fall. Jim caught the control levers and turned on our power in time to halt us only a few feet above the plain toward which we were falling. We were close to the point whence we had started up and we could see that the battle below us was still raging.
* * * * *
The green dragon was partially engulfed by the amoeba, but it still relentlessly tore off huge chunks and devoured them. The amoeba was greatly reduced in bulk but it still fought gamely. Even as we approached the dragon was evidently satiated, for it slowly withdrew from the purple bulk and back away. Long feelers shot out from the amoeba's bulk toward the dragon but they were bitten off before they could grasp their prey.
"Let's get away from here, Jim," I cried, but I spoke too late. Even as the words left my mouth the green dragon saw us and raised itself in the air, and with gaping jaws launched itself at us. It took Jim only a moment to shoot the flyer up into space, and the charge passed harmlessly beneath us. The dragon checked its headway and turned again toward us.
"Use the machine-gun, Pete!" cried Jim. "I've got to run the ship."
I threw the cover off the gun and fed in a fresh belt of ammunition. As the green monster dashed toward us I hastily aligned the gun and pulled the trigger. My aim was good and at least fifty of the bullets plowed through the approaching bulk before Jim dropped the ship and allowed it to pass above us. Again the dragon turned and charged, and again I met it with a hail of bullets. They had no apparent effect and Jim dropped the ship again and let the huge bulk shoot by above us. Twice more the dragon rushed but the last rush was less violent than had been the first three.
"The bullets are affecting him, Pete!" cried Jim as he shot the flyer upward. "Give him another dose!"
I hastily fed in another belt, but it was not needed. The dragon rushed the fifth time, but before it reached us its velocity fell off and it passed harmlessly below us and fell on a long curve to the plain below. It fell near the purple amoeba which it had battled and a long feeler shot out and grasped it. Straight into the purple mass it was drawn, and vanished into the huge bulk.
Jim started one of the stern motors. In a few seconds we were far from the scene.
"Have you any idea of which direction to go?" he asked. I shook my head.
"Have you a radio beacon?" I asked.
He withered me with a glance.
"We're beyond the heaviside layer," he reminded me.
* * * * *
For a moment I was stunned.
"We can't be very far from the hole," he said consolingly as he fumbled with the controls. "But before we try to find it, we had better disconnect one of the stern motors and rig it as a disintegrating ray so that we will have one bearing in each direction. We may meet more denizens of space who like our looks, and we haven't much ammunition left."
We landed on the plain and in an hour had a second disintegrating ray ready for action. Thus armed, we rose from the blue plain and started at random on our way. For ten minutes we went forward. Then Jim stopped the flyer and turned back. We had gone only a short distance when I called to him to stop.
"What is it?" he demanded as he brought the flyer to a standstill.
"There's another creature ahead of us," I replied. "A red one."
"Red?" he asked excitedly as he joined me. About a mile ahead of us a huge mass hung in the air. It resembled the amoeba which had attacked us, except that the newcomer was red. As we watched, it moved toward us. As it did so its color changed to purple.
"Hurrah!" cried Jim. "Don't you remember, Pete, that the one which captured us and took us out of the hole was red while in the hole and then turned purple? That thing just came out of the hole!"
"Then why can't we see the red beam?" I demanded.
"Because there's no air or anything to reflect it," he replied. "We can't see it until we are right in it."
I devoutly hoped that he was right as he headed the ship toward the waiting monster. As we approached the amoeba came rapidly to meet us and a long feeler shot out. As it did so there was a flash of intense light ahead of us as Jim turned loose the ray, and the feeler disappeared. Another and another met the same fate. Then Jim rotated the ship slightly and let out the full force of the ray toward the monster. A huge hole was torn in it, and as we approached with our ray blazing, the amoeba slowly retreated and our path was open before us. Again there was an instant of intense heat as we passed through the red wall, and we were again in the hole which Jim's lamps had blasted through the layer. Below us still lay the fog which had obscured the earth when we had started on our upward trip.
* * * * *
Down toward the distant earth we dropped. We had gone about thirty miles before we saw on the side of the hole one of the huge amoeba which were so thick above.
"We might stop and pick that fellow off," said Jim, "but, on the whole, I think we'll experiment with him."
He drove the ship nearer and turned it on its axis, holding it in position by one of the auxiliary discharges. A flash came from our forward ray and a portion of the amoeba disappeared. A long arm moved out toward us, but it moved slowly and sluggishly instead of with the lightninglike swiftness which had characterized the movements of the others. Jimmy easily eluded it and dropped the ship a few yards. The creature pursued it, but it moved slowly. For a mile we kept our distance ahead of it, but we had to constantly decrease our speed to keep from leaving it behind. Soon we were almost at a standstill, and Jim reversed our direction and drew nearer. A feeler came slowly and feebly out a few feet toward us and then stopped. We dropped the ship a few feet but the amoeba did not follow. Jim glanced at the altimeter.
"Just as I thought," he exclaimed. "We are about forty-five miles above the earth and already the air is so dense that the thing cannot move lower. They are fashioned for existence in the regions of space and in even the most rarified air they are helpless. There is no chance of one ever reaching the surface of the earth without years of gradual acclimation, and even if it did, it would be practically immobile. In a few years the layer will flow enough to plug the hole I have made, but even so, I'll build a couple of space flyers equipped with disintegrating rays as soon as we get down and station them alongside the hole to wipe out any of that space vermin which tries to come through. Let's go home. We've put in a good day's work."
Hundreds of the purple amoeba have been destroyed by the guarding ships during the past five years. The hole is filling in as Jim predicted, and in another ten years the earth will be as securely walled in as it ever was. But in the mean time, no one knows what unrevealed horrors space holds, and the world will never rest entirely easy until the slow process of time again heals the broken protective layer.
* * * * *
Everyone Is Invited
To "Come Over in
'THE READERS' CORNER'"!
* * * * *
Earth, the Marauder
BEGINNING A THREE-PART NOVEL
By Arthur J. Burks
Despite the fact that for centuries the Secret of Life had been the possession of children of men, the Earth was dying. She was dying because the warmth of the sun was fading; because, with the obliteration of the oceans in order to find new land upon which men might live, her seasons had become stormy, unbearably cold and dreary: and the very fact of her knowledge of the Secret of Life, in which men numbered their ages by centuries instead of by years, was her undoing.
[Sidenote: Out of her orbit sped the teeming Earth—a marauding planet bent on starry conquest.]
For when men did not die, they multiplied beyond all counting, beyond all possibility of securing permanent abiding places. One man, in the days when the earth was young, and man lived at best to the age of three score years and ten, could have, given time and opportunity, populated a nation. Now, when men lived for centuries, eternally youthful, their living descendants ran into incalculable numbers.
The earth—strange paradox—was dying because it had learned the Secret of Life. Twenty centuries before, the last war of aggression had been fought, in order that an over-populated nation might find room in which to live. Now all the earth was one nation, speaking one tongue—and there were no more lands to conquer.
In his laboratory atop the highest peak in the venerable Himalayas, lived Sarka, conceded by the world to be its greatest scientist, despite his youth. His grandfather, who had watched the passing of eighteen centuries, had discovered the Secret of Life and thoughtlessly, in the light of later developments, broadcast his discovery to the world. The genius of this man, who was also called Sarka, had been passed on to his son, Sarka the Second, and by him in even greater degree to Sarka the Third ... called merely Sarka for the purposes of this history.
Had Sarka lived in the days before the discovery of the Secret of Life, people of that day would have judged him a young man of twenty. His real age was four centuries.
Behind him as he sat moodily staring at the gigantic Revolving Beryl stood a woman of most striking appearance. Her name was Jaska, and according to ideas of the Days Before the Discovery, she seemed a trifle younger than Sarka. Her hand, unadorned by jewelry of any kind, rested on Sarka's shoulder as he studied the Revolving Beryl, while her eyes, whose lashes, matching her raven hair, were like the wings of tiny blackbirds, noted afresh the wonder of this man.
"What is to be done?" she asked him at last, and her voice was like music there in the room where science performed its miracles for Sarka.
* * * * *
Wearily Sarka turned to face her, and she was struck anew, as she had been down the years since she had known this man, every time their glances met, at the mighty curve of his brow, which rendered insignificant his mouth, his delicate nose of the twitching nostrils, the well-deep eyes of him.
"Something must be done," he said gloomily, "and that soon! For, unless the children of men are provided with some manner of territorial expansion, they will destroy one another, only the strongest will survive, and we shall return to the days when the waters covered the earth, and monstrous creatures bellowed from the primeval slime!"
"You are working on something?" she asked softly.
For a moment he did not answer. While she waited, Jaska peered into the depths of the Revolving Beryl, which represented the earth. It was fifty feet in diameter, and in its curved surface and entrancing depths was mirrored, in this latest development of teleview, all the earth and the doings of its people. But Jaska scarcely saw the fleeting images, the men locked in conflict for the right to live, the screaming, terror-stricken women. This was now a century-old story, and the civilization of Earth had almost reached the breaking point.
No, she scarcely saw the things in the Beryl, for she had read the hint of a vast, awesome secret in the eyes of Sarka—and wondered if he dared even tell her.
* * * * *
"If the people knew," he whispered, "they would do one of two things! They would tear me limb from limb, and hurl the parts of me outward into space forever—or they would demand that I move before I am ready—and cause a catastrophe which could never be rectified; and this grand old Earth of ours would be dead, indeed!"
"And this secret of yours?" Jaska now spoke in the sign language which only these two knew, for there were billions of other Revolving Beryls in the world, and words could be heard by universal radio by any who cared to listen. And always, they knew, the legions of enemies of Sarka kept their ears open for words of Sarka which could be twisted around to his undoing.
"I should not tell even you," he answered, his fingers working swiftly in their secret, silent language, which all the world could see, but which only these two understood. "For if my enemies knew that you possessed the information, there is nothing they would stop at to make you tell."
"But I would not tell, Sarka," she said softly. "You know that!"
He patted her hands, and the ghost of a smile touched his lips.
"No," he said, "you would not tell. Some day soon—and it must be soon if the children of men are not to destroy themselves, I will tell you! It is a secret that lies heavily on my heart. If I should make a mistake.... Chaos! Catastrophe! Eternal, perpetual dark, the children of men reduced to nothingness!"
* * * * *
A little gasp from Jaska, for it was plain that this thing Sarka hinted at was far and away beyond anything he had hitherto done—and Sarka had already performed miracles beyond any that had ever been done by his predecessors.
"When my grandfather," went on Sarka moodily, "perfected, in this self-same laboratory, the machinery by which the waters of the oceans could be disintegrated, our enemies called him mad, and fought their way up these mountain slopes to destroy him! With the pack at his doors, he did as he had told them he would do. Though they hurried swiftly into the great valleys to colonize them—where oceans had been—they were like ravening beasts, and gave my grandfather no thanks. Our people have always fought against progress, have always been disparaging of its advocates! When the first Sarka discovered the Secret they would have destroyed him, though he made them immortal...."
"If only the Secret," interrupted Jaska, "could be returned to him who discovered it! That would solve our problem, for men then would die and be buried, leaving their places for others."
Again that weary smile on the face of Sarka.
"Take back the Secret which is known to-day to every son and daughter of woman? Impossible! More nearly impossible than the attainment of my most ambitious dream!"
"And that dream?" spoke Jaska with speeding fingers.
"I have wondered about you," said Sarka softly, while those eyes of his bored deeply into hers. "We have been the best of friends, the best of comrades; but there are times when it comes to me that I do not know you entirely! And I have many enemies!"
"You mean," gasped the woman, for the moment forgetting the secret sign manual, "you think it possible that I—I—might be one of your enemies, in secret?"
"Jaska, I do not know; but in this matter in my mind I trust no one. I am afraid even that people will read my very thoughts, though I have learned to so concentrate upon them that not the slightest hint of them shall go forth telepathically to my enemies! I do not mind death for myself; but our people must be saved! It is hideous to think that we have been given the Secret of Life, only to perish in the end because of it! I am sorry, Jaska, but I can tell no one!"
But Jaska, one of the most beautiful and intelligent of Earth's beautiful and intelligent women, seemed not to be listening to Sarka at all, and when he had finished, she shrugged her shoulders slightly and prepared to leave.
* * * * *
He followed her to the nearest Exit Dome, built solidly into the side of his laboratory, and watched her as she slipped swiftly into the white, skin-tight clothing—marked on breast and back with the Red Lily of the House of Cleric. His eyes still were deeply moody.
He helped her don the gleaming metal helmet in whose skull-pan was set the Anti-Gravitational Ovoid—invented by Sarka the Second, used now of necessity by every human creature—and strode with her to the Outer Exit, a door of ponderous metal sufficiently strong to prevent the inner warmth of the laboratory getting out, or the biting cold of the heights to enter, and studied her still as she buckled about her hips her own personal Sarka-Belt, which automatically encased her, through contact with her tight clothing, with the warmth and balanced pressure of the laboratory, which would remain constant as long as she wore it.
With a nod and a brief smile, she stepped to the metal door and vanished through it. Sarka turned gloomily back to his laboratory. Looking into the depths of the Revolving Beryl and adjusting the enlarging device which brought back, life size, the infinitesmal individuals mirrored in the Beryl, he watched her go—a trim white figure which flashed across the void, from mountain-top to her valley home, like a very white projectile from another world. Very white, and very precious, but....
When she was home, and had waved to him that she had arrived safely, he forgot her for a time, and allowed his eyes to study the inner workings of this vast, crowded world whose on-rushing fate was so filling his brain with doubt, with fear—and something of horror!
The People of the Hives
Moodily Sarka stared into the depths of the Beryl, which represented the Earth, and in which he could see everything that earthlings did, after visually enlarging them, through use of a microscope that could be adjusted, with relation to the Beryl, to bring out in detail any section of the world he wished to study. His face was utterly sad. The people at last truly possessed the Earth—all of it that was, even with the aid of every miracle known to science, habitable.
The surface of the Earth was one vast building, like a hive, and to each human being was allotted by law a certain abiding place. But men no longer died, unless they desired to do so, and then only when the Spokesmen of the Gens saw fit to grant permission; and there soon would be no place for the newborn to live. Even now that point had practically been reached throughout the world, and in the greater portion it had been reached, and passed, and men knew that while men did not die, they could be killed!
The vast building, towering above what had once been the surface of the earth, to heights undreamed of before the discovery, was irregular on its top, to fit the contour of the earth, and its roof, constructed of materials raped from the earth's core, was so designed as to catch and concentrate the yearly more feeble rays of the sun, so that its life-giving warmth might continue to be the boon of living people.
* * * * *
It had been found as Earth cooled that life was possible to a depth of eight miles below the one-time surface, so that the one huge building extended below the surface to this great depth, and was divided and re-divided to make homes for men, their wives, and their progeny. But even so, space was limited. Neighboring families outgrew their surroundings, overflowed into the habitations of their neighbors—and every family was at constant war against its neighbors.
Men did not die, but they could be slain, and there was scarcely a home, above or below, in all the vast building, which had not planned and executed murder, times and times—or which had not left its own blood in the dwelling places of neighbors.
No law could cope with this intolerable situation, for men, down the ages, had changed in their essential characteristics but little—and recognized one law only in their extremity, that of self-preservation.
So there was murder rampant, and mothers who wept for children, husbands, fathers or mothers, who would never return to their homes.
"My grandfather," whispered Sarka, his eyes peering deeply into a certain area beyond that assigned by law to the House of Cleric, where men of two neighboring families were locked in mortal, silent conflict, "should not have frustrated the mad scheme of Dalis! It was slaughter, wholesale and terrible, but it would have cleansed the souls of the survivors!"
* * * * *
Mentally Sarka was looking back now to that red day when Dalis, the closest scientific rival of Sarka the First, had come to Sarka the First with his proposal which at the time had seemed so hideous. Sarka remembered that interval in all its details, for he had heard it many times.
"Sarka," Dalis had said in his high-pitched voice, staring at Sarka the First out of red-rimmed, fiery eyes, "unless something is done the world will rush on to self-destruction! Men will slay one another! Fathers will kill their sons, and sons their fathers, if something is not done! For always there is marrying and giving in marriage, and each family is reaching out in all directions, seeking merely space in which to live. Formerly there were wars which automatically took thought of the overplus of men; but to-day the world is at peace, as men regard the term—and every man's hand is against his neighbor! There will be no more wars, when there should be! There is but one alternative!"
"And that?" Sarka the First had queried suspiciously.
"The segregation of the fittest! The destruction, swiftly, painlessly, of all the others! And when the survivors have again re-populated the earth to overflowing—a repetition of the same corrective! Men will die, yes, by millions; but those who are left will be a stronger, sturdier race, and by this process of elimination, century by century, men will evolve and become super-men!"
"And this plan of yours?"
* * * * *
For a moment Dalis had paused, breathing heavily, as though almost afraid to continue. Then, while Sarka the First had listened in frozen terror, Dalis had explained his ghastly scheme.
"If it were not for the mountains and the valleys," said Dalis, "and the world were perfectly round and smooth of surface, that surface would be covered by water to the depth of one mile! Is that not correct! The Earth, rotating on its axis, travels about the sun at the rate of something like nineteen miles per second, so perfectly balanced that the oceans remain almost quiescent in their beds! But, Sarka, mark me well! If we could, together, devise a way to halt this rotation for as much as a few seconds, what would happen?"
"What would happen?" repeated Sarka the First, dropping his own voice to a husky, frightened whisper. "Why, the oceans would be hurled out of their beds, and a wall of water a mile high or more—it is all guesswork!—would rush eastward around the world, bearing everything before it! It would uproot and destroy buildings, sweep the rocky covering of the earth free of soil; and humanity, caught on the earth below the highest level of the world's greatest tidal wave, would be engulfed!"
"Exactly!" Dalis had said with a grin. "Exactly! Only—the people we wish to survive could be warned, and these could either be aloft when the tidal wave swept the face of the earth, or could be safely out of reach of the waters on the sides of the highest mountains!"
* * * * *
Sarka the First, wanly smiling, catching his breath at last, now that he realized the utter impossibility of this mad scheme, had been minded to humor the fancies of a man whom he had believed not quite sane.
"Why not," he began, "take away from men the Secret of Life, so that they will die, as formerly, when the world was young?"
"When all the world knows the Secret, when even children learn it before they are capable of walking?" demanded Dalis sarcastically. "You could only remove knowledge of the Secret from the brains of men by removing those brains themselves! Your thought is more terrible even than mine, because it leads to this inescapable conclusion!"
"But supposing for a moment your mad scheme were possible, who should say whom, of all the earth's people, should be saved, whom sacrificed?"
"What better test could be given than that which I am proposing?" Dalis had snarled. "Those worthy of being saved would save themselves! Those who would perish would not be worth saving! As natural, as inescapable as the law of the survival of the fittest, which has been an axiom of life since men first crawled out of the slime and asked each other questions as they caught their first glimpses of the stars and pondered the reasons for them!"
"But where, then, was there any point in my giving to people the Secret of Life?"
"Had you paused to think," snapped Dalis, "you would never have done so! Your lust for power, and for fame, destroyed your foresight!"
* * * * *
"And is it not, Dalis," replied Sarka the First, softly, "for this, really, that you have come to me? To berate me? To throw at my head mad schemes impossible of accomplishment? I have always known you for an enemy, Dalis, because you are envious of what I have accomplished, what you sense that I will accomplish as time passes!"
"I do not love you, Sarka!" retorted Dalis frankly. "I despise you! Hate you! But I need the aid of that keen brain of yours! You see, hate you though I may, I do you honor still. I have something up here," tapping the dome of his brow, only less lofty than that of Sarka, "which you lack. You have something I have not, never can attain! But together we are complements, each of the other, and to the two of us this scheme is possible!"
"I am very busy, Dalis," Sarka the First had replied coldly. "I must ask you to leave me! What you propose is impossible, unthinkable!"
"So," retorted Dalis, "you think me mad? You think me incapable of perfecting this plan about whose details you have not even yet been informed! You would show me the door as though you were a king and I a slave—when kings and slaves vanished from the earth millenniums ago! Then listen to me, Sarka! I know how to do this thing about which I have told you. I can halt, for a brief moment only, the whirl of the earth about its axis. And by so doing I can flood the earth with the waters of the oceans! If you will not listen to me, I shall do it myself! You shall have two days in which to give me an answer, for I admit that I need you, who would balance me, make sure I made no fatal mistakes! But if you do not, I will act ... along the lines I have hinted!"
* * * * *
Apparently as unconcerned as though he had not just listened to a scheme for almost total depopulation of the world, the destruction of millions upon millions of lives, Sarka the First had dismissed Dalis—who had straightway used all his offices to arouse the world of science against the first Sarka.
But, when the two days of grace given by Dalis had passed, there were no oceans—for Sarka the First had been planning for a century against the time when the earth must of necessity be over-populated, and had worked and slaved in his laboratory against the contingency which had developed.
He had smiled, though there was a trace of fear on his face after Dalis had left, for his scheme had been worked out—not to destroy, but to save!
And from this same laboratory in which Sarka now sat and pondered on the next step in man's expansion, Sarka the First had, in fear and trembling at first, but with his confidence growing by leaps and bounds, worked his own miracle. Untold millions and billions of rays, whose any portion of which, coming in contact with water, immediately separated its hydrogen and oxygen, thus disintegrating its molecules, were hurled forth from their store-houses beneath the laboratory, across the faces of the mighty oceans of Earth....
And when men saw the miracle, they rushed into the mighty valleys where the oceans had been, and began to build new homes!
* * * * *
That had been centuries ago—scores of centuries.
Now all the earth, all the livable part of the earth, above its surface—and below it to the depths of miles—was filled with people, like bees in a monster hive, like ants of antiquity in their warrened hills. And there was no place now that they could go.
So they fought among themselves for the right to live.
"But my grandfather was right!" Sarka almost screamed it, speaking aloud in the silence of his laboratory. "My grandfather was right! Dalis was wrong! Science should be the science of Life, not of Death! Yet whither shall we go! Where now shall we find places for our people who are daily being born in myriads, to live, and love and flourish?"
But there was no answer. Only the humming of the perpetually revolving Beryl, which showed to the sad eyes of Sarka that the people of his beloved earth were rushing onward to Chaos, unless....
"If only I could be sure about Jaska!" he moaned. "If only my courage were as great as that of which I stand in need! For if I fail, even Dalis, had he succeeded with that scheme of his in grandfather's time, would be less a monster, less a criminal!"
The Spokesmen of the Gens
For a long moment Sarka looked broodingly out across the world beyond the metalized glass which formed the curving dome of his laboratory roof. There was little that could be seen, for always the mighty, cold winds, ruffed with flurries of snow and particles of ice, swept over this artificial roof of the world. Here and there huge portions of the area within the range of his normal vision were swept clear and clean of snow and ice—and looked bluely, bitterly cold and hostile.
Without the Sarka-Belts, people who ventured forth from their hives would instantly freeze to the consistency of marble in those winds and storms. For the people of Earth had built their monster habitation toward the stars until they reached up into the altitude of perpetual cold.
Only under that gleaming roof was there warmth. Many of the men, and women, and children who had lost in the now century-old fight for survival had merely been tossed out of the hives. A painless, swift death—but each death, in a world so highly specialized that each grown person fitted into his niche naturally and easily, was a distinct loss, not much, perhaps, but enough for the loss to be felt.
* * * * *
Sarka, closing his eyes for a moment as though to shut out a horror which in his mind he could visualize, turned back to the Revolving Beryl, in which he kept in constant touch with all parts of the world at will.
"It must be done!" he muttered. "I must take action. It means the loss of thousands, perhaps millions of lives, in such a war as the mind of man has not hitherto conceived; but for a Cause greater than any which has ever hitherto been an excuse for armed conflict. But I must discuss it with the Spokesmen of the Gens!"
On the table before Sarka was a row of vari-colored lights, whose source was beneath the floor of the laboratory, out of the heart of the master-mountain, part of the intricate machinery of this laboratory which had been almost twenty centuries in the perfecting. In the dwelling place of each of the Spokesmen was a single light, colored like one of the lights on Sarka's table. To speak with any one of the Spokesmen Sarka had but to dim the properly colored light by covering it with the palm of his hand. The light in the home of the thus signalled Spokesman was dimmed, and the Spokesman would know that Sarka desired to converse with him.
Sarka noted the blue light, and shuddered. For if he covered it with his palm it would summon Dalis, a great scientist, but an erratic one, as Sarka the First had so clearly shown.
Sarka turned again to the Beryl. The area of which Dalis was Spokesman was, roughly speaking, that part of what had once been the Pacific Ocean, north of a line drawn east and west through the southernmost of the Hawaiian Islands, northward to the Pole. The home of Dalis was in the heart of what had once been an island historians claimed had been called Oahu, now a mountain peak still retaining a hint of the pre-Discovery name: Ohi.
* * * * *
The total number of the Spokesmen, the oldest of earth's inhabitants, was twelve, and the remainder of the Earth not under the tutelary rule of Dalis was divided up among the other eleven Spokesmen. Cleric, for example, father of Jaska, was Spokesman of that area which men had once called Asia, the vast valleys of the once Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean; while the youngest of the Spokesmen, in a manner serving his apprenticeship, was tutelary head of the vast plateau once called Africa. The name of this man was Gerd.
"He, at least," thought Sarka, thinking of each Spokesman in turn and cataloguing each in his mind, "will be with me. I wonder about the others, and especially Dalis. He has always hated us!"
Then, with the air of a man who has made up his mind and crosses his particular Rubicon in a single step, Sarka rose to his feet and passed along the row of vari-colored lights, covering each one with his hand in rapid succession.
Then he sat down again, almost holding his breath, and waited. As he stared at the row of lights his eyes lingered longest on two which were almost golden in color—and his face was very gentle, almost reverent. For those two lights were signals to Sarka the First and Sarka the Second, his grandfather and his father!
* * * * *
It was Dalis, the irascible, the fiery tempered, the erratic, who first made answer.
"Yes! What is it now?"
Sarka smiled a trifle grimly as he spoke a single word.
The voice of Dalis, which Sarka had good cause to remember, had sounded as loudly in the laboratory as though Dalis had been present there in person, for men had learned to communicate by voice almost without the aid of radio and its appurtenances though the principle upon which the first crude beginnings of radio were fashioned still applied. Each man's dwelling place was both a "sender" and a "receiver," and men could talk and be talked to no matter where they lived—individuals telepathically summoned at desire of anyone wishing verbal contact.
"Gerd is here!" came the voice of that Spokesman.
To him also Sarka spoke one word.
"I am here, Sarka!" came a musical voice. "And Jaska is with me, listening!"
That would be Cleric, loyal friend, master scientist, but always shy of contact with people, though swift to anger and self-forgetfulness when he knew himself right and was opposed. Sarka darted a look back at the Revolving Beryl, adjusted swiftly the Beryl-microscope, and smiled into the faces of Jaska and Cleric, who looked enough alike that they might have been brother and sister, though Cleric had been born ten centuries before his daughter Jaska. They smiled back at him.
* * * * *
He shifted the Beryl-microscope and stared for a second at Dalis, there in the Beryl, and marked the antagonism Dalis was at no pains to hide.
One by one the Spokesmen reported.
Klaser, from the Americas; Durce from the valleys of the vanished Atlantic; Boler from that part of the Artic Circle not included in the wedge which the Gens of Dalis thrust northward to the Pole: Vardee; Prull; Yuta; Aal; Vance and Hime. Each from his appointed area, each from the official headquarters of his Gens, the name given to those people who acknowledged the tutelage of a Spokesman. Each Spokesman, therefore, was the mouthpiece of millions of men, women and children. And over the Spokesmen, and not themselves Spokesmen, were three scientists: The Sarkas, First, Second and Third.
When all twelve of the Spokesmen had reported and been bidden by Sarka to wait, a smile touched the face of Sarka for an instant as two other voices, so nearly alike they might have been the voice of a single person, reported themselves.
"I am here, son! What is it?"
Oddly enough, Sarka's father and grandfather reported with exactly the same words. Sarka smiled at a whimsical thought of his own. It had been some time since the three scientist Sarkas had been together, and despite the vast differences in their ages they might have been triplets!
* * * * *
The reports were in and the Spokesmen were waiting; but for almost a minute Sarka waited still. Then he spoke swiftly those words for which there could be no recall:
"Gentlemen, the time is come when we must go to war!"
For a long moment after he had spoken there was no answer. Then it came, in the jeering laughter of the antagonistic Dalis.
"War? Against whom? The Sarkas are always dreaming!"
"And Dalis," continued Sarka, "shall be one of the leaders of Earthlings in this war which I am about to propose! You doubtless recall a proposal you once made to Sarka the First? Your proposal to halt for a few moments the headlong whirl of the earth about its axis, thus to flood—"
"Stop!" interrupted Dalis. "Stop! Immediately!"
And Sarka stopped. He had forgotten, in the excitement of his urge to explain his plans, that the millions of people who gave official allegiance to Dalis had never been informed of the hideous proposal he had made, back there centuries ago, as a corrective for a world rapidly approaching over-population. Had his people known, never again would the voice of Dalis be heard in life. The Spokesmen knew, and the Sarkas; but no others. Sarka understood the protest of Dalis; honored it.
"Dalis," he went on, more softly, "after I have explained what I wish to do, you will come to me here, prepared to explain to me exactly how you planned doing what you proposed to my grandfather—for your knowledge will be necessary to me...."
"Isn't it enough that your grandfather stole from me, and amplified, an idea that would have made me forever famous, without his grandson also stealing the fruit of my brains?"
"Your brains," said Sarka sharply, "belong to your people. What I plan is for their betterment. But it means war, war which may last a century, two centuries, in which lives of countless thousands may be lost."
* * * * *
Sarka's last words were almost drowned out by the humming sound that came out of the Revolving Beryl, that perfected device which was the ultimate in the evolution of television and vibration-transference. Sarka's heart sank, for he knew the meaning of that sound. So did the Spokesmen.
"You see?" came the rasping voice of Dalis. "You hear? Look into your Beryl! See the clenched fists of the earth's myriads being shaken at you! Listen to the protests of the millions who hear your every word! See what Earthlings think of the prospect of war!"
For a moment Sarka spoke directly to the people.
"Be silent and listen! It will be war, yes; but not such a skulking, hideous war as ye wage among yourselves for a place to live! You, fathers, are guilty of slaying your sons! You, sons, of slaying your fathers! Merely by thrusting them forth from the hives, into the Outer Cold! This war I propose shall be a war that shall match your manhood, if ye indeed be men! Listen to me, and I will find for you new lands to conquer, new homes for your holding, if ye can take them!"
"But where," interrupted the sarcastic voice of Dalis, "are these new lands of which you speak? Inside the Earth? Already our hives reach into the Earth a distance of eight miles. Where else, then?"
"For shame, Dalis!" snapped Sarka, "and you a scientist! Every bit of habitable land on this globe is some man's dwelling place! Spokesmen of the Gens of Earth, look out your windows! Look out and upward—and read Dalis' answer in the stars!"
* * * * *
For a full minute there was silence throughout the earth, and Sarka saw that the Spokesmen were doing his bidding. He himself looked out, out through the swirling storm which tore at the crest of the Himalayas, a dark and forbidding Outside, in the starred dome of which rode the pale orbed moon!
"It is obvious, son," came the voice of Sarka the First, "what you mean. But how accomplish it?"
"Fifteen centuries ago, my father's father," cried Sarka, "Dalis told you that he possessed the power to halt for a moment the headlong whirl of the world on its axis about the sun! He could do it then—and no man, whatever he may think of Dalis as a man, has ever known him to lie! If, fifteen centuries ago, he could bring the whirling world to pause, why can we not, now...."
And, even though he had thought of this for years upon end, had spoken over and over to himself the words he was now using, rehearsing his proposed argument to the Spokesmen of the Gens, Sarka found himself for a moment almost afraid to continue and speak them.
"I understand, Sarka!" came the excited voice of Gerd, youngest of the Spokesmen. "And I follow wherever you think it best to lead! You mean ... you mean...."
"Exactly!" Sarka managed at last. "If the Earth can be stayed on its axis, it can be diverted from its orbit entirely! I know, for I have found the manner of its doing, though I need the genius of Dalis to check my work and my calculations! We have no new land on this Earth to conquer; but the Universe is filled with countless other worlds! What say ye, Spokesmen of the Gens? What say ye, Gens of Earth?"
But for the time of a thousand heartbeats neither the Spokesmen or the Gens made answer to Sarka, and all the world fell utterly silent, absorbing this unbelievable thing of which Sarka had hinted.
* * * * *
Over the metalized roof of the world the snows and storms, the winds and the wraiths of the long dead moaned and screamed as with an icy voice of abysmal warning.
And for the time of those thousand heartbeats, the world was pausing to listen.
When realization came, the answer would come from the Spokesmen and from the Gens; and here in the Sarka laboratory, his Rubicon crossed at last, sat Sarka, staring through the Beryl-microscope into the depths of the Revolving Beryl. His face was dead white, his eyes narrowed.
The first voice which came startled him.
"It is mad, Sarka! Mad! Mad! But I am with you, always!"
It was the voice of Jaska, daughter of Cleric!
The Earthlings Make Ready
"I too, am with you!" came the voice of Gerd.
"Spoken like a child!" snapped Dalis. "For you are as much a child as this third of the dreaming Sarkas! The scheme is mad, madder even than Jaska intimates! The scheme I once proposed, in which I was cheated by the grandfather of this madman, was times and times more feasible and practicable!"
"Suppose," came the soft voice of Sarka the First, interrupting Dalis, "that you put the matter up to your Gens, O wise and noble Dalis, and see which scheme they would endorse if given the choice in the matter—and were your scheme still possible!"
This quickly silenced the vituperation of Dalis, but in no wise prevented his continuance as a rather loud antagonist of the plan.
"How," he demanded, "can you return the Earth to its orbit, even granting you are able to take this initial step? How keep life on the Earth during its flight on this rainbow-chasing voyage you propose?"
"All these things have been taken into consideration, O Dalis!" retorted Sarka. "All of my scheme is practicable, as I think you will agree when I have told you its details. What think you of the plan, Klaser? And you, Durce? Boler? Vardee? Prull? Yuta? Aal? Vance? Hime?"
When the Spokesmen had answered, some of them hesitantly, for the people all this time had remained silent—and none of the Spokesmen could be sure how his own Gens would feel in the matter—it developed that seven of the Spokesmen were for the scheme, if it should prove to be possible.
"If this is the voice of the majority of the Gens," snapped Dalis, "given thus by their Spokesmen, then I vote with the majority! I shall call upon you immediately, Sarka, for a conference!"
* * * * *
"I am glad," said Sarka softly, "that the majority of the Spokesmen are with me. Especially am I glad that Dalis and Cleric vote with me. For the others I have only this to say: I have thought this matter over for almost a century, and I know that the time has come when we must act, to save ourselves from self-destruction. Had you not decided with me, I should have acted alone!"
"Yes?" snapped Dalis. "How?"
"I have, here in my laboratory," replied Sarka, "the power whereby to accomplish the scheme of which I have told you! Had all the Gens defied me, I would have nevertheless sent the Earth outward on its voyage, bringing it within reach of the denizens, first of the Moon, second of Mars—and you people of little courage would have been compelled to fight to save yourselves!"
"You would have forced us into war?" came the quavering voice of Prull, the first Spokesman aside from Dalis to take active part in the discussion. "Then why, if you had the means in the beginning to enforce your will upon us, confer with us at all?"
Sarka thrilled with satisfaction, for this question gave him the excuse he sought. He had been wondering and scheming how to compel the Spokesmen of the Gens to obey his will.
"I wanted your opinions," he said shortly. "But I also wish you to know that I have the power to go on, whether you wish it or not—and you must obey me!"
* * * * *
How would the twelve Gens take this ultimatum of Sarka? For breathless moments after he had spoken he waited, and the Spokesmen with him. Then came the voice of Cleric, addressing his people, yet leaving the contacts open so that Sarka and the other Spokesmen might hear.
"What say you, O Gens of Cleric?" he cried, his voice an exultant, clarioning paean of rejoicing. "Do we follow this man who promises us life again? Do we follow this man who promises us that once again we shall dwell in plenty, without the blood of relatives and neighbors on our hands? Answer this man, O Gens—for I say unto you that wheresoever he leads I would follow him!"
Silence for a heartbeat. Then a murmuring like the sound of the waves of the long-vanished seas sounded in the laboratory, wherein all things were seen, all sounds were heard. A monster voice, loud and savage, from the Gens of Cleric.
"We follow Cleric wherever he leads!" Finally the words became intelligible. "It matters not to us whom Cleric follows, so long as we may follow Cleric!"
"Well spoken, O Gens of Cleric!" snapped Sarka when the murmuring died down to a whisper, then faded out entirely. "Deck yourselves in the white garments of Cleric! Emblazon upon your backs and breast the Red Lily of his House! Prepare for war! These are your orders; the details I leave to Cleric!"
There came the voice Dalis.
"Give your orders to my Gens direct, O Sarka!" rasped Dalis. "For I leave this very moment to come to you!"
"Thank you," said Sarka, a great wave of exaltation sweeping over him. He had expected Dalis to be the last and most difficult to manage. Then to the Gens of Dalis, as the blue light on the table in the laboratory showed Sarka that Dalis was already winging toward him: "Deck yourselves in the green garments of Dalis! Wear as your insignia the yellow star of his House, and prepare for war! Make new and modern Ray Directors! Refurbish your rotting machines of destruction! Make ready, and make haste! For the Gens of Dalis will be the first of all the Gens to move in attack against the Dwellers Outside! When the time comes I shall tell you where you shall dwell—if you win the land I shall show you!"
* * * * *
The humming of myriad voices inside the laboratory was now almost continuous, but ever the words of Sarka went out to the Spokesmen and to the Gens, though, save in the case of Cleric and of Dalis, he did not speak to the Gens direct, because he did not wish in one iota to usurp the authority of the Spokesmen themselves.
But when less than an hour had passed, he realized that the first step had been successfully taken, and that from now on the success or failure of the scheme rested in his own hands. Perspiration bedewed his forehead, and for a second he prayed.
"God of our fathers! Grant that we be not mistaken! Grant that we be right in what we plan! Grant that success attend our arms! Grant that this scheme of mine lead us not to catastrophe—for if this should develop, only I am guilty, and only I should be punished!"
As one voice, the Spokesmen of the Gens spoke the word, and Sarka heard it. He had forgotten for the moment that the Spokesmen still could hear him.
"That is all," he said huskily. "Prepare your Gens, each of you, for such battle as even our histories never have recorded! For we go against foemen whose strength we do not know, whose manner of life we do not know, and we must not fail! Make haste with your preparations! Your time is short! And Spokesmen, counsel your Gens that they put aside at once all personal differences, all family quarrels, all quarrels with their neighbors! That each adult individual, each unmarried woman, and such married woman as have all their children grown, and who no longer need them, prepare to go forth to battle! From this laboratory, within a brief space, Dalis and the Sarkas will give you further word!"
* * * * *
Then he dimmed the lights, and severed contact with the Spokesmen of the Gens. Only two lights he did not dim, at the moment, and to two men he spoke softly.
"My father and my father's father! Come to me at once! For there shall be need of the combined genius of the Sarkas if my scheme is to succeed!"
From both Sarkas, as though they had rehearsed the words against this need of them, came answer:
"Aye, son, we come!"
From that moment on until Dalis and the Sarkas were ready to take the most momentous step ever taken in the history of the world, the humming within the laboratory did not cease. For the people, the millions and billions of people of the hives, were busy, eagerly and feverishly busy, preparing new armament, new engines of destruction, against the time when there should be need of them. And for perhaps the first time in centuries, the people were happy.
For not even the passage of a thousand centuries, or a thousand thousand centuries, could flush from the warm hearts of men the love of conflict!
Sarka smiled wanly, his face very pale. He had spoken, his people were busy with preparations, and now there could be no turning back. The world, when he spoke the word, would rush outward to glorious conflict—or to destruction!
A buzzer sounded near the Exit Dome. Sarka raced to give the "Enter" Signal—and Dalis, he of the hawk-eyes, the sharp nose and sharper tongue, entered the presence of the man who, in a twinkling, had made himself master of the world.
"Well," he said harshly, "I am here! What do you wish of me?"
"We Sarkas," said Sarka easily, "wish to assure ourselves that you will do nothing to obstruct our plans! Dalis, of the Gens of Dalis, you are prisoner of the Sarkas until you have passed your word!"
"That I will never do!" said Dalis calmly. "I have passed my word to go forward with you; but I meant, and you knew I meant, to go forward only as far as to me seemed right and reasonable!"