THEY OPENED THE PANDORA'S BOX OF ATOMIC TRAVEL
When George Randolph first caught sight of Orena, he was astounded by its gleaming perfection. Here were hills and valleys, lakes and streams, glowing with the light of the most precious of metals. And, more astonishing than that, it was a world of miniature perfection—an infinitely tiny universe within a golden atom!
But for Randolph it was also a world aglow with danger. Somewhere in its tiny vastness were the friends he had to rescue. Captives of a madman, they had been reduced to native Orena size; to return to Earth they needed the growth capsules Randolph was bringing them. It was up to Randolph to find them—and quickly—for the longer they stayed tiny, the closer they came to passing BEYOND THE VANISHING POINT!
CAST OF CHARACTERS
FRANZ POLTER He found a gold mine in a land where there was no gold.
DR. KENT His scientific studies could mean life or death to an entire universe!
GEORGE RANDOLPH He crossed the border into Canada, and found himself in another world.
ALAN KENT Twenty feet tall, or two inches high—which should he be?
GLORA She was only as large as a thumbnail, but she carried a gigantic secret.
BABS KENT Did she live in a golden cage or a magnificent palace?
BEYOND THE VANISHING POINT
by RAY CUMMINGS
ACE BOOKS, INC. 23 West 47th Street, New York 36, N. Y.
BEYOND THE VANISHING POINT Copyright (C), 1958, by Ace Books, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Printed in U.S.A.
It was shortly after noon of December 31, 1970, when the series of weird and startling events began which took me into the tiny world of an atom of gold, beyond the vanishing point, beyond the range of even the highest-powered electric-microscope. My name is George Randolph. I was, that momentous afternoon, assistant chemist for the Ajax International Dye Company, with main offices in New York City.
It was twelve-twenty when the local exchange call-sorter announced Alan's connection from Quebec.
"Hello, George? Look here, you've got to come up here at once. Chateau Frontenac, Quebec. Will you come?"
I could see his face imaged in the little mirror on my desk; the anxiety, tenseness in his voice, was duplicated in his expression.
"Well—" I began.
"You must, George. Babs and I need you. See here...."
He tried at first to make it sound like an invitation for a New Year's Eve holiday. But I knew it was not that. Alan and Barbara were my best friends. They were twins, eighteen years old. I felt that Alan would always be my best friend; but for Babs, my hopes, longings, went far deeper, though as yet I had never brought myself to the point of telling her so.
"I'd like to come, Alan. But—"
"You've got to George! I can't tell you everything over the public air. But I've seen him: He's diabolical. I know it now!"
Him! It could only mean, of all the world, one person!
"He's here!" he went on. "Near here. We saw him today! I didn't want to tell you, but that's why we came. It seemed a long chance, but it's he, I'm positive!"
I was staring at the image of Alan's eyes; there was horror in them. And his voice too. "God, George, it's weird! Weird, I tell you. His looks—he—oh I can't tell you now! Only, come!"
* * * * *
I was busy at the office in spite of the holiday season, but I dropped everything and went. By one o'clock that afternoon I was wheeling my little sport Midge from its cage on the roof of the Metropole building, and went into the air.
It was a cold gray afternoon with the feel of coming snow. I made a good two hundred and fifty miles at first, taking the northbound through-traffic lane which today the meteorological conditions had placed at an altitude of 6,200 feet.
Flying is largely automatic. There was not enough traffic to bother me. The details of leaving the office so hastily had been too engrossing for thought of Alan and Babs. But now, in my little pit at the controls, my mind flung ahead. They had located him. That meant Franz Polter, for whom we had been searching nearly four years. And my memory went back into the past with vivid vision....
* * * * *
The Kents, four years ago, were living on Long Island. Alan and Babs were fourteen at the time, and I was seventeen. Even then Babs was something kind of special to me. I lived in a neighboring house that summer and saw them every day.
To my adolescent mind a thrilling mystery hung upon the Kent family. The mother was dead. Dr. Kent, father of Alan and Babs, maintained a luxurious home, with only a housekeeper and no other servant. Dr. Kent was a retired chemist. He had, in his home, a laboratory in which he was working upon some mysterious problem. His children did not know what it was, nor, of course, did I. And none of us had ever been in the laboratory, except that when occasion offered we stole surreptitious peeps.
I recall Dr. Kent as a kindly, iron-gray haired gentleman. He was stern with the discipline of his children; but he loved them, and was indulgent in many ways. They loved him; and I, an orphan, began looking upon him almost as a father. I was interested in chemistry. He knew it, and did his best to help and encourage me in my studies.
There came an afternoon in the summer of 1966, when arriving at the Kent home, I ran upon a startling scene. The only other member of the household was a young fellow of twenty-five, named Franz Polter. He was a foreigner, born, I understood, in one of the Balkan Protectorates; he was here, employed by Dr. Kent as laboratory assistant.
He had been with the Kents, at this time, two years. Alan and Babs didn't like him, nor did I. He must have been a clever, skillful chemist. No doubt he was. But he was, to us, repulsive. A hunchback, with a short, thick body; dangling arms that suggested a gorilla; barrel chest; a lump set askew on his left shoulder, and his massive head planted down with almost no neck. His face was rugged in feature; a wide mouth, a high-bridged heavy nose; and above the face a great shock of wavy black hair. It was an intelligent face; in itself, not repulsive.
But I think we all three feared Franz Polter. There was always something sinister about him, that had nothing to do with his deformity.
When I came, that afternoon, Babs and Polter were under a tree on the Kent lawn. Babs, at fourteen, with long black braids down her back, bare-legged and short-skirted in a summer sport costume, was standing against the tree with Polter facing her. They were about the same height. To my youthful imaginative mind rose the fleeting picture of a young girl in a forest menaced by a gorilla.
I came upon them suddenly. I heard Polter say:
"But I lof you. And you are almos' a woman. Some day you lof me."
He put out his thick hand and gripped her shoulder. She tried to twist away. She was frightened, but she laughed.
He was suddenly holding her in his arms, and she was fighting him. I dashed forward. Babs was always a spunky sort of girl. In spite of her fear now, she kept on struggling, and she shouted:
"You—let me go, you—you hunchback!"
He did let her go; but in a frenzy of rage he hauled back his hand and struck her in the face. I was upon him the next second. I had him down on the lawn, punching him; but though at seventeen I was a reasonably husky lad, the hunchback with his thick, hairy gorilla arms proved much stronger. He heaved me off. The commotion had brought Alan and without waiting to find out what the trouble was, he jumped on Polter. Between us, I think we would have beaten him pretty badly. But the housekeeper summoned Dr. Kent and the fight was over.
Polter left for good within an hour. He did not speak to any of us. But I saw him as he put his luggage into the taxi which Dr. Kent had summoned. I was standing silently nearby with Babs and Alan. The look he flung us as he drove away carried an unmistakable menace—the promise of vengeance. And I think now that in his warped and twisted mind he was telling himself that he would some day make Babs regret that she had repulsed his love.
What happened that night none of us ever knew. Dr. Kent worked late in his laboratory; he was there when Alan and Babs and the housekeeper went to bed. He had written a note to Alan; it was found on his desk in a corner of the laboratory next morning, addressed in care of the family lawyer to be given Alan in the event of his death. It said very little. Described a tiny fragment of gold quartz rock the size of a walnut which would be found under the giant microscope in the laboratory; and told Alan to give it to the American Scientific Society to be guarded and watched very carefully.
This note was found, but Dr. Kent had vanished! There had been a midnight marauder. The laboratory was on the lower floor of the house. Through one of its open windows, so the police said, an intruder had entered. There was evidence of a struggle, but it must have been short, because neither Babs, Alan, the housekeeper, nor any of the neighbors had heard anything. And the fragment of golden quartz was gone!
The police investigation came to nothing. Polter was found in New York. He withstood the police questions. There was nothing except suspicion upon which he could be held, and he was finally released. Immediately thereafter, he disappeared.
Neither Alan, Babs nor I saw Polter again. Dr. Kent had never been heard from to this day, four years later when I flew to join the twins in Quebec. And now Alan told me that Polter was up there! We had never ceased to believe that Dr. Kent was alive, and that Polter was the midnight marauder. As we grew older, we began to search for Polter. It seemed to us, that if we could once get our hands on him, we could drag from him the truth which the police had failed to get.
The call of a traffic director in mid-Vermont brought me back from these memories. My buzzer was clanging; a peremptory halting signal day-beam came darting up at me from below. It caught me and clung. I shouted down at it.
"What's the matter?" I gave my name and number and all the details in one breath. Above everything I had no wish to be halted now. "What's the matter? I haven't done anything wrong."
"The hell you haven't," the director roared. "Come down to three thousand. That lane's barred."
I dove obediently and his beam followed me. "Once more, like that, young fellow—" But he went busy with somebody else and I didn't hear the end of his threat.
I crossed into Maine in mid-afternoon. It was already twilight. The sky was solid lead and the landscape all up through here was gray-white with snow in the gathering darkness. I passed the City of Jackman, crossing full over it to take no chances of annoying the border officials; and a few miles further, I dropped to the glaring lights of International Inspection Field. The formalities were soon finished. I was ready to take-off when Alan rushed at me.
"George! I thought I could connect here." He gripped me. He was wild-eyed, incoherent. He waved his taxiplane away. "I'm going with you, George. I'm almost out of my mind. I can't—I don't know what's happened to her. She's gone, now—"
"Who's gone? Babs?"
"Yes." He pushed me into my plane and climbed in after me. "Don't talk. Get us up! I'll tell you then. I shouldn't have left."
When we were up in the air, I swung on him. "What are you talking about? Babs gone?"
I could feel myself shuddering with a nameless horror.
"I don't know what I'm talking about, George. I'm about crazy. The Quebec police think I am, anyway. I've been raising hell with them for an hour. Babs is gone! I can't find her. I don't know where she is."
He finally calmed down enough to tell me what happened. Shortly after his radiophone to me in New York, he had missed Babs. They had had lunch in the huge hotel and then walked on the Dufferin Terrace—the famous promenade outside looking down over the Lower City, the great sweep of the St. Lawrence River and the gray-white distant Laurentian mountains.
"I was to meet her inside. I went in ahead of her. But she didn't come. I went back to the Terrace but she was gone. She wasn't in our rooms. Nor the library, the lobby—anywhere."
But it was afternoon, in the public place of a civilized city. In the daylight of the Dufferin Terrace, beside the long ice toboggan slide, under the gaze of skaters on the ice-rink and several hundred holiday merrymakers, a young girl could hardly be murdered, or kidnapped, without attracting attention! The Quebec police thought the young American unduly excited about his sister, who was missing only an hour. They would do what they could, if by dark she had not rejoined him. They suggested that doubtless the young lady had gone shopping.
"Maybe she did," I agreed. But in my heart, I felt differently. "She'll be waiting for us in the Hotel when we get there, Alan."
"But I'm telling you we saw Polter this morning. He lives here—not thirty miles from Quebec. We saw him on the Terrace after breakfast. Recognized him immediately of course."
"Did he see you?"
"I don't know. He was lost in the crowd in a minute. But I asked a young French fellow if he knew him. He did know him, as Frank Rascor. That must be the name he wears now. He's a famous man up here—well known, immensely rich. I didn't know if he saw us or not. What a fool I was to leave Babs alone, even for a minute."
We were speeding over a white-clad valley with a little frozen river winding down its middle. Night had almost come. The leaden sky was low above us. It began snowing. The lights of the small villages along the river were barely visible.
"Can you land us, Alan?"
"Yes, surely. At the Municipal Field just beyond the Citadel. We can get to the Hotel in five minutes."
* * * * *
It was a flight of only half an hour. During it, Alan told me about Polter. The hunchback, known now as Frank Rascor, owned a mine in the Laurentians, some thirty miles from Quebec City—a fabulously productive mine of gold. It was an anomaly that gold should be produced in this region. No vein of gold-bearing rock had been found, except the one on Polter's property. Alan had seen a newspaper account of the strangeness of it; and on a hunch had come to Quebec, being intrigued by the description of the mine owner. He had seen Frank Rascor on the Dufferin Terrace, and recognized him as Polter.
Again my thoughts went back into the past. Had Polter stolen that missing fragment of golden quartz the size of a walnut which had been beneath Dr. Kent's microscope? We always thought so. Dr. Kent had some secret, some great problem upon which he was working. Polter, his assistant, had evidently known, or partially known, its details. And now, four years later, Polter was immensely rich, with a "gold mine" in mountains where there was no other evidence of gold!
I seemed to see some connection. Alan, I knew, was groping with a dim idea, so strange he hardly dared voice it.
"I tell you, it's weird, George. The sight of him. Polter—heavens, one couldn't mistake that build—and his face, his features, just the same as when we knew him."
"Then what's so weird?" I demanded.
"His age." There was a queer solemn hush in Alan's voice. "George, when we knew Polter, he was about twenty-five, wasn't he? Well, that was four years ago. But he isn't twenty-nine now. I swear it is the same man, but he isn't around thirty. Don't ask me what I'm talking about. I don't know. But he isn't thirty. He's nearer fifty! Unnatural! Weird! I felt it, and so did Babs, just that brief look we had of him."
I didn't answer. My attention was on managing the plane. The lights of Levis were under us. Beyond the City cliffs, the St. Lawrence lay in its deep valley; the Quebec lights, the light-dotted ramparts with the Terrace and the great fortresslike Hotel showed across the river.
"Better take the stick, Alan. I don't know where the field is. And don't you worry about Babs. She'll be back by now."
* * * * *
But she was not. We went to the two connecting rooms in the tower of the Hotel which Alan and Babs had engaged. We inquired with half a dozen phone calls. No one had seen or heard from her. The Quebec police were sending a man up to talk with Alan.
"Well, we won't be here," Alan called to me. He was standing by the window in Babs' room; he was trembling too much to use the phone. I hung up the receiver and went though the connecting door to join him.
Babs' room! It sent a pang through me. A few of her garments were lying around. A negligee was laid out on the large bed. A velvet boudoir doll—she had always loved them—stood on the dresser. Upon this Hotel room, in one day, she had impressed her personality. Her perfume was in the air. And now she was gone.
"We won't be here," Alan was repeating. He gripped me at the window. "Look." In his hand was an ugly-looking, smokeless, soundless automatic of the Essen type. "And I've got another one for you. Brought them with me."
His face was white and drawn, but his hands had steadied. The tremble was gone out of his voice.
"I'm going after him, George! Now! Understand that? Now? His place is only thirty miles from here, out there in the mountains. You can see it in the daylight—a wall around his property and a stone castle which he built in the middle of it. A gold mine? Hell!"
There was nothing to be seen now out of the window but the snow-filled darkness, the blurred lights of Lower Quebec and the line of dock lights five hundred feet below us.
"Will you fly me, George?"
I was the one trembling now; the cool feel of the automatic which Alan thrust into my hand seemed suddenly to crystallize Babs' peril. I was here in her room, with the scent of her perfume around me, and this deadly weapon was needed! But the trembling was gone in a moment.
"Yes, of course, Alan. No use talking to the police. I gave them all the information—a description of her, what you said she was wearing. No sense dragging Polter's name into it, with nothing tangible to go on. The police won't ransack the castle of a rich man just because you can't find your sister. Come on. You can tell me what this place is like as we go."
* * * * *
Bundled in our flying suits we hurried from the Hotel, climbed the Citadel slope and in ten minutes were in the air. The wind sucked at us. The snow now was falling with thick, huge flakes. Directed by Alan, I headed out over this ice-filled St. Lawrence, past the frozen Ile d'Orleans, toward Polter's mysterious mountain castle.
Suddenly Alan burst out, "I know what father's secret was! I can piece it together now, from little things that were meaningless when I was a kid. He invented the electro-microscope. You know that. The infinitely small fascinated him. I remember he once said that if we could see far enough down into smallness, we would come upon human life!"
Alan's low, tense voice was more vehement than I had ever heard it before. "It's clear to me now, George. That little fragment of golden quartz which he wanted me to be so careful of contained a world with human inhabitants! Father knew it, or suspected it. And I think the chemical problem on which he was working aimed for some drug. I know it was a drug they were compounding, Polter said so once, a radioactive drug; I remember listening at the door. A drug, George, capable of making a human being infinitely small!"
I did not answer when momentarily Alan paused. So strange a thing. My mind whirled with it; struggled to encompass it. And like the meaningless individual pieces of a puzzle, dropping so easily into place when the key piece is fitted, I saw Polter stealing that fragment of gold; abducting Dr. Kent—perhaps because Polter himself was not fully acquainted with the secret. And now, Polter up here with a fabulously rich "gold mine." And Babs, abducted by him, to be taken—where?
It set me shuddering.
"That's what it was," Alan reiterated. "And Polter, here now with what he calls a 'mine.' It isn't a mine, it's a laboratory! He's got father too, hidden God knows where! And now Babs. We've got to get them, George! The police can't help us! It's just you and me, to fight this thing. And it's diabolical!"
We soared over the divided channel of the St. Lawrence, between Orleans and the mainland. Montmorency Falls in a moment showed dimly white through the murk to our left, a great hanging veil of ice higher than Niagara. Further ahead, the lights of the little village of St. Anne de Beaupre were visible with the gray-black towering hills behind them.
"Swing left, George. Over the mainland. That's St. Anne. We pass this side of it. Put the mufflers on. This damn thing roars like a tower siren."
I cut in the muffler and switched off our wing-lights. It was illegal but we were past all thought of that. We were both desperate; the slow prudent process of acting within the law had nothing to do with this affair. We both knew it.
Our little plane was dark, and amid the sounds of this night blizzard our muffled engine couldn't be heard.
Alan touched me. "There are his lights; see them?"
We had passed St. Anne. The hills lay ahead—a wild mountainous country stretching northward to the foot of Hudson Bay. The blizzard was roaring out of the North and we were heading into it. I saw, on what seemed like a dome-shaped hill perhaps a thousand feet above the river level, a small cluster of lights which marked Polter's property.
"Fly over it once, George," Alan said. "Low—we can chance it. And find a place to land near the walls."
We presently had it under us. I held the plane at five hundred feet, and cut our speed to the minimum of twenty miles an hour facing the gale, though it was sixty or seventy when we turned. There were a score or two of hooded ground lights. But there was little reflection aloft, and in the murk of the snowfall I felt we could escape notice.
We crossed, turned and went back in an arc following Polter's curved outer wall. We had a good view of it. A weird enough looking place, here on its lonely hilltop. No wonder the wealthy "Frank Rascor" had attained local prominence!
The whole property was irregularly circular, perhaps a mile in diameter covering the almost flat dome of the hilltop. Around it, completely enclosing it, Polter had built a stone and brick wall. A miniature of the Great Wall in China! We could see that it was fully thirty feet high with what evidently were naked high-voltage wires protecting its top. There were half a dozen little gates, securely barred, with doubtless a guard at each of them.
Within the walls there were several buildings: a few small stone houses suggesting workmen's dwellings; an oblong stone structure with smoke funnels which looked like a smelter; a huge domelike spread of translucent glass over what might have been the top of a mineshaft. It looked more like the dome of an observatory—an inverted bowl fully a hundred feet wide and equally as high, set upon the ground. What did it cover?
And there was Polter's residence—a castlelike brick and stone building with a tower not unlike a miniature of the Chateau Frontenac. We saw a stone corridor on the ground connecting the lower floor of the castle with the dome, which lay about a hundred feet to one side.
Could we chance landing inside the wall? There was a dark, level expanse of snow where we could have done it, but our descending plane doubtless would have been discovered. But the mile-wide inner area was dark in many places. Spots of light were at the little wall-gates. There was a glow all along the top of the wall. Lights were on in Polter's house; they slanted out in yellow shafts to the nearby white ground. But for the rest, the whole place was dark, save a dim glow from under the dome.
I shook my head at Alan's suggestion that we land inside the walls. We had circled back and were a mile or so off toward the river. "The trees—and you saw guards down there. But that low stretch outside the gate on this side...."
A plan was coming to me. Heaven knows it was desperate enough, but we had no alternative. We would land and accost one of the gate guards. Force our way in. Once inside the wall, on foot in the darkness of this blizzard, we could hide; slip up to that dome. Beyond that my imagination could not go.
We landed in the snow a quarter of a mile from one of the gates. We left the plane and plunged into the darkness.
It was a steady upward slope. A packed snowfield was underfoot, firm enough to hold our weight, with a foot or so of loose, soft snow on its top. The falling flakes whirled around us. The darkness was solid. Our helmeted leather-furred flying suits were soon shapeless with a gathering white shroud. We carried our Essens in our gloved hands. The night was cold, around zero I imagine, though with that biting wind it felt far colder.
From the gloom a tiny spot of light loomed up.
"There it is, Alan. Easy now! Let me go first." The wind tore away my words. We could see the narrow rectangle of bars at the gate, with a glow of light behind them.
"Hide your gun, Alan." I gripped him. "Do you hear me?"
"Let me go first. I'll do the talking. When he opens the gate, let me handle him. You—if there are two of them—you take the other."
We emerged from the darkness, into the glow of light by the gate. I had the horrible feeling that a shot would greet us. A challenge came, at first in French and then in English.
"Stop! What do you want?"
"To see Mr. Rascor."
We were up to the bars now, shapeless hooded bundles of snow and frost. A man stood in the doorway of a lighted little cubby behind the bars. A black muzzle in his hand was leveled at us.
"He sees no one. Who are you?"
Alan was pressing at me from behind. I shoved him back, and took a step forward. I touched the bars.
"My name is Fred Davis. Newspaperman from Montreal I must see Mr. Rascor."
"You cannot. You may send in your call. The mouthpiece is there—out there to the left. Bare your face; he talks to no one without the face image."
The guard had drawn back into his cubby; there was only his extended hand and the muzzle of his weapon left visible.
I took a step forward. "I don't want to talk by phone. Won't you open the gate? It's cold out here. We have important business. We'll wait with you."
Abruptly the gate lattice slid aside. Beyond the cubby doorway was the open darkness within the wall. A scuffed path leading inward from the gate showed for a few feet.
I walked over the threshold, with Alan crowding me. The Essen in my coat pocket was leveled. But from the cubby doorway, I saw that the guard was gone! Then I saw him crouching behind a metal shield. His voice rang out.
A light struck my face—a thin beam from a television sender beside me. It all happened in an instant, so quickly Alan and I had barely time to make a move. I realized my image was now doubtless being presented to Polter. He would recognize me!
I ducked my head, yelling, "Don't do that!"
It was too late! The guard had received a signal. I heard its buzz.
From the shield a tiny jet of fluid leapt at me. It struck my hood. There was a heavy sickening-sweet smell. It seemed like chloroform. I felt my senses going. The cubby room was turning dark, was roaring.
I think I fired at the shield. And Alan leapt aside. I heard the faint hiss of his Essen, and his choked, horrified voice:
"George, run! Don't fall!"
I crumpled; slid into blackness. And it seemed, as I went down, that Alan's inert body was falling on top of me....
* * * * *
I recovered after a nameless interval, a phantasmagoria of wild, drugged dreams. My senses came slowly. At first, there were dim muffled voices and the tread of footsteps. Then I knew that I was lying on the ground, and that I was indoors. It was warm. My overcoat was off. Then I realized that I was bound and gagged.
I opened my eyes. Alan was lying inert beside me, roped and with a black gag around his face and in his mouth. We were in a huge dim open space. Presently, as my vision cleared, I saw that the dome was overhead. This was a circular, hundred-foot-wide room. It was dimly lighted. The figures of men were moving about, their great misshapen shadows shifting with them. Twenty feet from me there was a pile of golden rock—chunks of gold the size of a man's fist, or his head, and larger, heaped loosely into a mound ten feet high.
Beyond this pile of ore, near the center of the room, twenty feet above the concrete floor, there was a large hanging electrolier. It cast a circular glow downward. Under it I saw a low platform raised a foot or two above the ground. A giant electro-microscope was hung with its twenty foot cylinder above the platform. Its intensification tubes were glowing in a dim phosphorescent row on a nearby bracket. A man sat in a chair on the platform at the microscope's eyepiece.
I saw all this with a brief glance, then my attention went to a white stone slab under the giant lense. It rested on the platform floor, a two-foot square surface of smooth white marble. A little roped railing a few inches high fenced it. And in its center lay a fragment of golden quartz the size of a walnut!
There was a movement across my line of vision. Two figures advanced. I recognized both of them. And I strained at my bonds; mouthed the gag with futile, frenzied effort. I could no more than writhe; and I couldn't make a sound. I lay, after a moment exhausted, and stared with horror.
The familiar hunched figure of Polter advanced toward the microscope. And with him, his huge hand holding her wrists, was Babs. They were nearly fifty feet from me, but with the light over them I could see them clearly. Babs' slim figure was clad in a long skirted dress—pale blue, now, with the light on it. Her long black hair had fallen disheveled to her shoulders. I couldn't see her face. She did not cry out. Polter was half dragging her as she resisted him; and then abruptly she ceased struggling.
I heard his guttural voice. "That iss better."
They mounted the platform. They were very small and seemed to be far away. I blinked. Horror surged over me. Their figures were dwindling as they stood there. Polter was saying something to the man at the microscope. Other men were nearby, watching. All were normal, save Polter and Babs. A moment passed. Polter was standing by the chair in which the man at the microscope was sitting. And Polter's head barely reached its seat! Babs was clinging to him now. Another moment and they were both tiny figures down by the chair-leg. Then they began walking with swaying steps toward the miniature railing of the white slab. The white reflection from the slab plainly illumined them. Polter's arm was around Babs. I had not realized how small they were until I saw Polter lift the rope of the little four-inch fence, and he and Babs stooped and walked under it. The fragment of quartz lay a foot from them in the center of the white surface. They walked unsteadily toward it. But soon they were running.
My horrified senses whirled. Then abruptly I felt something touch my face! Alan and I were lying in shadow. No one had noticed my writhing movements, and Alan was still in drugged unconsciousness. Something tiny and light and soundless as a butterfly wing brushed my face! I jerked my head aside. On the floor, within six inches of my eyes, I saw the tiny figure of a girl an inch high! She stood, with a warning gesture to her lips—a human girl in a filmy flowing robe. Long, pale golden tresses lay on her white shoulders; her face, small as my little fingernail, colorful as a miniature painted on ivory, was so close to my eyes that I could see her expression—warning me not to move.
There was a faint glow of light on the floor where she stood, but in a moment she moved out of it. Then I felt her brush against the back of my head. My ear was near the ground. A tiny warm hand touched my ear lobe; clung to it. A tiny voice sounded in my ear.
"Please do not move your head. You might kill me!"
There was a pause. I held myself rigid. Then the tiny voice came again.
"I am Glora, a friend. I have the drug! I will help you!"
It seemed that Alan was stirring. I felt the tiny hand leave my ear. I thought that I could hear faint little footfalls as the girl scampered away, fearful that a sudden movement by Alan would crush her. I turned cautiously after a moment and saw Alan's eyes upon me. He too had seen, with a blurred returning consciousness, the dwindling figures of Babs and Polter. I followed his gaze. The while slab with the golden quartz under the microscope seemed empty. The several men in this huge circular dome-room were dispersing to their affairs; three of them sat whispering by what I now saw was a pile of gold ingots stacked crosswise. But the fellow at the microscope held his place, his eyes glued to its aperture as he watched the vanishing figures of Polter and Babs on the rock-fragment.
Alan was trying to convey something to me. He could only gaze and jerk his head. I saw behind his head the figures of the tiny girl on the floor behind him. She wanted evidently to approach his head, but didn't dare. When for an instant he was quiet, she ran forward, but at once scampered back.
From the group by the ingots, one of the men rose and came toward us. Alan held still, watching. And the girl, Glora, seized the opportunity to come nearer. We both heard her tiny voice:
"Do not move! Close your eyes! Make him think you are still unconscious."
Then she was gone, like a mouse hiding in the shadows near us.
Amazement swept Alan's face; he twisted, mouthed at his gag. But he saw my eager nod and took his cue from me.
I closed my eyes and lay stiff, breathing slowly. Footsteps approached. A man bent over Alan and me.
"Are you no conscious yet?" It was the voice of a foreigner, with a queer, indescribable intonation. A foot prodded us. "Wake up!"
Then the footsteps retreated, and when I dared to look, the man was rejoining his fellows. It was a strange looking trio. They were heavy-set men in leather jackets and short, wide knee-length trousers. One wore tight, high boots, and the others a sort of white buckskin, with ankle straps. All were bare-headed—round, bullet heads of close-clipped black hair.
I suddenly had another startling realization. These men were not of normal size as I had assumed! They were eight or ten feet tall at the very least! And they and the pile of ingots, instead of being close to me, were more distant than I had thought.
Alan was trying to signal me. The tiny girl was again at his ear, whispering to him. And then she came to me.
"I have a knife. See?" She backed away. I caught the pinpoint gleam of what might have been a knife in her hand. "I will get a little larger. I am too small to cut your ropes. You lie still, even after I have cut them."
I nodded. The movement frightened her so that she leaped backward; but she came again, smiling. The three men were talking earnestly by the ingots. No one else was near us.
Glora's tiny voice was louder, so that we both could hear it at once.
"When I free you, do not move or they may see that you are loose. I get larger now—a little larger—and return."
She darted away and vanished. Alan and I lay listening to the voices of the three men. Two were talking in a strange tongue. One called to the man at the microscope, and he responded. The third man said suddenly:
"Say, talk English. You know damn well I can't understand that lingo."
"We say, McGuire, the two prisoners soon wake up."
"What we oughta do is kill 'em. Polter's a fool."
"The doctor say, wait for him return. Not long, what you call three, four hours."
"And have the Quebec police up here lookin' for 'em? An' that damn girl he stole off the Terrace. What did he call her, Barbara Kent?"
"These two who are drugged, their bodies can be thrown in a gully down behind St. Anne. That what the doctor plan to do, I think. Then the police find them—days maybe from now—and their smashed airship with them."
The man at the microscope called, "They are almost gone I can hardly see them any more." He left the platform and joined the others. And I saw that he was much smaller than they—about my own size possibly.
There seemed six men here altogether. Four now, by the ingots, and two others far across the room where I saw the dark entrance of the corridor-tunnel which led to Polter's castle.
Again I felt a warning hand touch my face, and saw the figure of Glora standing by my head. She was larger now—about a foot tall. She moved past my eyes; stood by my mouth; bent down over my gag. I felt the cautious slide of a tiny knife-blade inserted under the fabric of the gag. She hacked, tugged at it, and in a moment ripped it through.
She stood panting from the effort. My heart was pounding with fear that she would be seen; but the man had turned the central light off when he left the microscope, and it was far darker here now than before.
I moistened my dry mouth. My tongue was thick, but I could talk.
"Thank you, Glora."
I felt her hacking at the ropes around my wrists. And then at my ankles. It took her a long time, but at last I was free! I rubbed my arms and legs; felt the returning circulation in them.
And presently Alan was free. "George, what—" he began.
"Wait," I whispered. "Easy! Let her tell us what to do."
We were unarmed. Two, against these six, three of whom were giants.
Glora whispered, "Do not move! I have the drugs. But I can not give them to you when I am still so small. I have not enough. I will hide—there." Her little arm gestured to where, near us, half a dozen boxes were piled. "When I am large as you, I come back. Be ready, quickly to act. I may be seen. I give you then the drug."
"But wait," Alan whispered. "Tell us—"
"The drug to make you large. Large enough to fight these men. I had planned to do that myself, until I saw you held captive. That girl of your world the doctor just now steal, she is friend of yours?"
"Yes! But—" A thousand questions were springing in my mind, but this was no time to ask them. I amended, "Go on! Hurry! Give us the drug when you can."
The little figure moved away from us and disappeared. Alan and I lay as we had before. But now we could whisper. We tried to anticipate what would happen; tried to plan, but that was futile. The thing was too strange, too astoundingly fantastic.
How long Glora was gone I don't know. I think, not over three or four minutes. She came from her hiding place, crouching this time, and joined us. She was, probably, of normal Earth size—a small, frail-looking girl something over five feet tall. We saw now that she was quite young, still in her teens. We lay staring at her, amazed at her beauty. Her small oval face was pale, with the flush of pink upon her cheeks—a face queerly, transcendingly beautiful. It was wholly human, yet somehow unearthly, as though unmarked by even the heritage of our Earthly strifes.
"Now! I am ready." She was fumbling at her robe. "I will give you each the same."
Her gestures were rapid. She flung a quick glance at the distant men. Alan and I were tense. We could easily be discovered now, but we had to chance it. We were sitting erect. Alan murmured:
"But what do we do? What happens? What—"
On the palm of her hand were two pink-white pellets. "Take these—one for each of you. Quickly!"
Involuntarily we drew back. The thing abruptly was gruesome, frightening. Horribly frightening.
"Quickly," she urged. "The drug is what you call highly radioactive. And volatile. Exposed to the air, it is gone very soon. You are afraid? No, I assure you it is not harmful."
With a muttered curse at his own reluctance, Alan seized the small pellet. I stopped him.
The men momentarily were engaged in a low-voiced, earnest discussion. I dared to hesitate a moment longer.
"Glora, where will you be?"
"Here. Right here. I will hide."
"We want to go after Mr. Polter," I gestured. "Into the little piece of golden rock. That's where he went with the Earth girl, isn't it?"
"Yes. My world is there—within an atom there in that rock."
"Will you take us?"
"Yes! But later."
Alan whispered vehemently, "Why not now? We could get smaller, now."
But she shook her head. "That is not possible. We would be seen as we climbed the platform and crossed the white slab."
"No," I protested, "not if we get very small, hiding here first."
She was smiling, but urgently fearful of this delay. "Should we get that small, then it would be, from here"—she gestured toward the microscope—"to there, a journey of very many miles. Don't you understand?"
This thing so strange!
Alan was plucking at me. "Ready, George?"
I put the pellet on my tongue. It tasted slightly sweet, but seemed to melt quickly and I swallowed it hastily. My heart, was pounding, but that was apprehension, not the drug. A thrill of heat ran through my veins as though my blood were on fire.
Alan was clinging to me as we sat together. Glora again had vanished. In the background of my whirling consciousness the sudden thought hovered that she had tricked us; done to us something diabolical. But the thought was swept away in the confused flood of impressions upon me.
I turned dizzily. "You all right, Alan?"
"Yes, I—I guess so."
My ears were roaring, the room seemed whirling, but in a moment that passed. I felt a sudden growing sense of lightness. A humming was within me—a soundless tingle. The drug had gone to every tiny microscopic cell in my body. The myriad pores of my skin seemed thrilling with activity. I know now that it was the exuding volatile gas of this disintegrating drug. Like an aura it enveloped me, acted upon my garments.
I learned later much of the principles of this and its companion drug but I had no thought for such things now. The huge dimly illumined room under the dome was swaying. Then abruptly it steadied. The strange sensations within me were lessening, or I forgot them, and I became aware of externals.
The room was shrinking! As I stared, not with horror now, but with amazement and a coming triumph, I saw everywhere a slow, steady, crawling movement. The whole place was dwindling. The platform, the microscope, were nearer than before, and smaller. The pile of ingots, and men near there, were shifting toward me.
"George! My God—this is weird!"
I saw Alan's white face as I turned toward him. He was growing at the same rate as myself evidently, for in all the scene he only was unchanged.
We could feel the movement. The floor under us was shifting, crawling slowly. From all directions it contracted as though it was being squeezed beneath us. In reality our expanding bodies were pushing outward.
The pile of boxes which had been a few feet away, were thrusting themselves at me. I moved incautiously and knocked them over. They seemed small now, perhaps half their former size. Glora was standing behind them. I was sitting and she was standing, but across the litter our faces were level.
"Stand up!" she murmured. "You all right now. I hide!"
I struggled to my feet, drawing Alan up with me. Now! The time for action was upon us! We had already been discovered. The men were shouting, clambering to their feet. Alan and I stood swaying. The dome-room had contracted to half its former size. Near us was a little platform, chair and microscope. Small figures of men were rushing at us.
I shouted, "Alan! Watch yourself!"
We were unarmed. These men might have automatic weapons. But evidently they did not. Only knives were in their hands. The whole place was ringing with shouts. And then a shrill siren alarm from outside started clanging.
The first of the men—a few moments before he had seemed a giant—flung himself upon me. His head was lower than my shoulders. I met him with a blow of my fist in his face. He toppled backward; but from one side another figure came at me. A knife-blade bit into the flesh of my thigh.
The pain seemed to fire my brain. A madness descended upon me. It was the madness of abnormality. I saw Alan with two dwarfed figures clinging to him. But he threw them off, and they turned and ran.
The man at my thigh stabbed again, but I caught his wrist and, as though he were a child, whirled him around me and flung him away. He landed with a crash against the shrunken pile of gold nuggets and lay still.
The place was in a turmoil. Other men were appearing from outside. But they now stood well away from us. Alan backed against me. His laugh rang out, half hysterical with the madness upon him as it was upon me.
"God! George, look at them! So small!"
They were now hardly the height of our knees. This was now a small circular room, under a lowering concave dome. A shot came from the group of Pygmy figures. I saw the small stab of flame, heard the zing of the bullet.
We rushed, with the full frenzy of madness upon us—enraged giants. What actually happened I cannot recount. I recall scattering the little figures; seizing them; flinging them headlong. A bullet, tiny now, stung the calf of my leg. Little chairs and tables under my feet were crashing. Alan was lunging back and forth; stamping; flinging his tiny adversaries away.
There were twenty or thirty of the figures here now. I feared that they might produce more up-to-date weapons. But my fears were unfounded: soon I saw these figures making their escape.
The room was littered with wreckage. I saw that by some miracle of chance the microscope was still standing, and I had a moment of sanity.
"Alan! Watch out! The microscope—the platform! Don't smash them! And Glora be careful not to hurt her!"
I suddenly became aware that my head and my shoulders had struck the dome roof. Why, this was a tiny room! Alan and I found ourselves backed together, panting in the small confines of a circular cubby with an arching dome close over us. At our feet the platform with the microscope over it hardly reached our boot tops. There was a sudden silence, broken only by our heavy breathing. The tiny forms of humans strewn around us were all motionless. The others had fled.
Then we heard a small voice. "Here! Take this! Quickly! You are too large. Quickly!"
Alan took a step. And sudden panic was on us both. Glora was here at our feet. We did not dare turn; hardly dared to move. To change position might have crushed her now that she had left her hiding place. My leg hit the top of the microscope cylinder. It rocked but did not fall.
Where was Glora? In the gloom we could not see her. We were in a panic.
Alan began, "George, I—"
The contracting inner curve of the dome bumped gently against my head. Our panic and confusion turned into cold fear. The room was closing in to crush us.
I muttered, "Alan! I'm going out!" I braced myself and heaved against the side and top curve of the dome. Its metal ribs and heavy translucent, reinforced glass plates resisted me. There was an instant when Alan and I were desperately frightened. We were trapped, to be crushed in here by our own horrible growth. Then the dome yielded under our smashing blows. The ribs bent; the plates cracked.
We straightened, pushed upward and emerged through the broken dome, with head and shoulders towering into the outside darkness and the wind and snow of the blizzard howling around us.
"Glora—that was horrible!"
We stood, again in normal size, with the wrecked dome-laboratory around us. The dome had a great jagged hole halfway up one of its sides, through which the snow was falling. The broken bodies strewn around were gruesome.
Alan repeated, "Horrible, Glora. The power of this drug is diabolical."
Glora had grown large after us and had given us the companion drug. I need not detail the strange sensations of our dwindling. We were so soon to experience them again!
We had searched, when still large, all of Polter's grounds. Some of his men undoubtedly escaped, made off into the blizzard. How many, we never knew. None of them ever made themselves known again.
We were ready to start into the atom. The fragment of golden quartz still lay under the microscope on the white square of stone slab. We had hurried with our last preparations. The room was chilling. We were all inadequately dressed for such cold.
I left a note scribbled on a square of paper by the microscope. With daylight Polter's wrecked place would be discovered and the police would surely come.
Guard this piece of golden quartz. Take it at once, very carefully, to the Royal Canadian Scientific Society. Have it watched day and night. We will return.
I signed it George Randolph. And as I did so, the extra ordinary aspect of these events swept me anew. Here in Polter's weird place I had been living in some strange fantastic realm. But this was the Province of Quebec, in civilized Canada. These were the Quebec authorities I was addressing.
I flung the thoughts away. "Ready, Glora?"
Then doubts assailed me. None of Polter's men had gotten large enough to fight us. Evidently he did not trust them with the drug. We could well believe that, for the thing misused, was diabolical beyond human conception. A single giant, a criminal, a madman, by the power of giant size alone, could menace and destroy beyond belief. The drug lost, or carelessly handled, could get loose. Animals, insects eating it, could roam the Earth, gigantic monsters. Vegetation nourished with the drug, might in a day overrun a big city, burying it with jungle growth!
How terrible a thing, if the realm of smallness were suddenly to emerge, consume this awe inspiring drug! Monsters of the sea, marine organisms, could expand until even the ocean was too small for them. Microbes of disease, feeding upon it—
Alan was prodding me. "We're ready, George."
"Okay, let's go."
This was not the largeness we were facing now, but smallness. I thought of Babs, down there with Polter, beyond the vanishing point in the realm of infinitely small. They had been gone an hour at least. Every moment lost now was adding to Babs' danger.
Glora sat with us on the platform. Strange little creature! She was wholly calm now; methodical with her last directions. There had been no time for her to tell us anything about herself. Alan had asked her why she had come here and how she had gotten the drugs. She waved him away.
"On the way down. Plenty of time then."
"How long will it take us?" Alan demanded.
"Not too long if we are careful with managing the trip. About ten hours."
And now we were ready to start. She told us calmly:
"I will give you each your share of the drugs, but then you take only as I tell you."
She produced from her robe several small vials a few inches long. They were tightly stoppered. The feel of them was cool and sleek; they seemed to be made of some strange, polished metal. Some of them were tinted black while the others glowed opalescent. She gave each of us one vial of each kind.
"The light ones are for diminishing," she said. "We take them very carefully, one small pellet only at first."
Alan was opening one of his, but she checked him.
"Wait! The drug evaporates very quickly. I have more to say. First we sit here together. Then you follow me to the white slab. We climb upon the little rock."
She laid her hands on my arms. Her blue eyes regarded us earnestly. Her manner was naive; childlike. But I could not mistake her intelligence or the force of character stamped on her face for all its dainty, ethereal beauty.
"Alan—" She smiled at him, and tossed back a straying lock of her hair which was annoying her. "You pay attention, Alan. You are very young, reckless. You listen. We must not be separated. You understand that, both of you? We will be always in that little piece of rock. But there will be miles of distance. And to be lost in size—"
What a strange journey upon which we were now starting! Lost in size?
"You understand me? Lost in size. If that happens, we might never find each other. And if we come upon the Doctor Polter and the girl he holds captive—if we can overtake them—"
"We must!" I exclaimed. "And we must get started."
She showed us which pellet to select. They were of several sizes, I found. And as she afterward told us, the larger ones were not only larger but of an intensified strength. We took the smallest. It was barely a thousandth part of the strength of the largest. In unison we placed the pellets on our tongues, and hastily swallowed.
The first sensations were as before. And, familiar now, they caused no more than a fleeting discomfort. But I think I could never get used to the outward strangeness!
The room in a moment was expanding. I could feel the platform floor crawling outward beneath me, so that I had to hitch and change my position as it pulled. We were seated together, Alan and I on each side of Glora. My fingers were on her arm. It did not change size, but it slowly drew away with a space opening between us. Overhead, the dome roof, the great jagged hole there, was receding, lifting, moving upward and away.
Glora pulled us to our feet. "We had better start now. The distance grows very far, so quickly."
We had been sitting within five feet of the stone slab with its four inch high railing around it. A chair was by the microscope eyepiece. As we stood swaying I saw that the chair was huge, and its seat level with my head. The great barrel-cylinder of the microscope slanted sixty feet upward. The dome roof was a distant spread three hundred feet up in the dimness. The dome-room was a vast arena now.
Alan and I must have hesitated, confused by the expanding scene—a slow, steady movement everywhere. Everything was drawing away from us. Even as we stood together, the creeping platform floor was separating us.
A moment passed. Glora was urging us on vehemently:
"Come! You must not stand there!"
We started walking. The railing around the slab was knee-high. The slab itself was a broad, square surface. The fragment of golden quartz lay in its center. It was now a jagged lump nearly a foot in diameter.
The platform seemed to shift as we walked; the railing hardly came closer as we advanced toward it. Then suddenly I realized that it was receding. Thirty feet away? No, now it was more than that—a great, thick rope, waist-high, with a huge spread of white surface behind it.
"Faster!" urged Glora. We ran, and reached the railing. It was higher than our heads. We ran under it, and cut out upon the white slab—a level surface, larger now than the whole dome-room had been.
Glora, like a fawn, ran in advance of us, her robe flying in the wind. She turned to look back.
"Faster! Faster, or it will be too hard a climb!"
Ahead lay a golden mound of rock. It was widening; raising its top steadily higher. Beyond it and over it was a vast dim distance. We reached the rock, breathless, winded. It was a jagged mound like a great fifty-foot butte. We plunged upon it and began climbing.
The ascent was steep; precipitous in places. There were little gullies, which expanded as we climbed up them. It seemed as if we would never reach the top, but at last we were there. I was aware that the drug had ceased its action. The yellow, rocky ground was no longer expanding.
We came to the summit and stood to get back our breath. Alan and I gazed with awe upon the top of a rocky hill. Little buttes and strewn boulders lay everywhere. It was all naked rock, ridged and pitted, and everywhere yellow-tinged.
Overhead was distance. I could not call it a sky. A blur was there—something almost but not quite distinguishable. Then I thought that I could make out a more solid blur which might be the lower lens of the microscope above us. And there were blurred, very distant spots of light, like huge suns masked by a haze, and I knew that they were the hooded lights of the laboratory room.
Before us, over the brink of a five hundred-foot drop, a great glistening plain stretched into the distance. I seemed to see where it ended in a murky blur. And far higher than our hilltop level a horizontal streak marked the rope railing of the slab.
"Well," said Alan. "We're here." He gazed behind us, back across the rocky summit which seemed several hundred feet across to its opposite brink. He was smiling, but the smile faded. "Now what, Glora? Another pellet?"
"No. Not yet. There is a place where we go down. It is marked in my mind."
I had a sudden ominous sense that we three were not alone up here. Glora led us back from the cliff. As we picked our way among the naked crags, it seemed behind each of them an enemy might be lurking.
"Glora, do you know if any of Dr. Polter's men might have the drug? I mean, do they come in and out of here?"
She shook her head. "I think not. He lets no one have the drug. He trusts not anyone. I stole it. I will tell you later. Much I have to tell you before we arrive."
Alan made a sudden, sidewise leap, and dashed around a rock. He came back to us, smiling ruefully.
"Gets on your nerves, all of this. I had the same idea you had, George. Might be someone around here. But I guess not." He took Glora's hand and they walked in advance of me. "We haven't thanked you yet, Glora," he added.
"Not needed. I came for help from your world. I followed the Dr. Polter when he came outward. He has made my world and my people, his slaves. I came for help. And because I have helped you, needs no thanks."
"But we do thank you, Glora." Alan turned his flushed, earnest face back to me. I thought I had never seen him so handsome, with his boyish, rugged features and shock of tousled brown hair. The grimness of adventure was upon him, but in his eyes there was something else. It was not for me to see it. That was for Glora; and I think that even then its presence and its meaning did not escape her.
We reached a little gully near the center of the hilltop. It was some twenty feet deep.
Glora paused. "We descend here."
The gully was an unmistakable landmark—open at one end, forty feet long, with the other end terminating in a blind wall which now loomed above us.
"A pit is here—a hole. I cannot tell just how large it will look when we are in this size."
We found it and stood over it—a foot-wide circular hole extending downward. Alan knelt and shoved his hand and arm into it, but Glora sprang at him.
"Don't do that!"
"Why not? How deep is it?"
She retorted sharply, "The Doctor Polter is ahead of us. How far away in size, who knows? Do you want to crush him, and crush that young girl with him?"
Alan's jaw dropped. "Good Lord!"
We stood with the little pit before us, and another of the pellets ready.
"Now!" said Glora.
Again we took the drug, a somewhat larger pellet this time. The familiar sensations began. Everywhere the rocks were creeping with a slow inexorable movement, the landscape expanding around us. The gully walls drew back and upward. In a moment they were cliff walls and we were in a broad valley.
We had been standing close together. We had not moved, except to shift our feet as the expanding ground drew them apart. I became aware that Alan and Glora were a distance from me. Glora called:
"Come, George! We're going down—quickly now."
We ran to the pit. It had expanded to a great round hole some six feet wide and equally as deep. Glora let herself down, peered anxiously beneath her, and dropped. Alan and I followed. We jammed the pit; but as we stood there, the walls were receding and lifting.
I had remarked Glora's downward glance, and shuddered. Suppose, in some slightly smaller size, Babs had been among these rocks!
The pit widened steadily. The movement was far swifter now. We stood presently in a great circular valley. It seemed fully a mile in diameter, with huge encircling walls like a crater rim towering thousands of feet into the air. We ran along the base of one expanding wall, following Glora.
I noticed now that overhead the turgid murk had turned into the blue of distance. A sky. It was faintly sky-blue, and seemed hazy, almost as though clouds were forming. It had been cold when we started. The exertion had kept us fairly comfortable; But now I realized that it was far warmer. This was different air, more humid, and I thought the smell of moist earth was in it. Rocks and boulders were strewn here on the floor of this giant valley, and I saw occasional pools of water. There had been rain recently!
The realization came with a shock of surprise. This was a new world! A faint, luminous twilight was around us. And then I noticed that the light was not altogether coming from overhead. It seemed inherent to the rocks themselves. They glowed, very faintly luminous, as though phosphorescent.
We were now well embarked upon this strange journey. We seldom spoke. Glora was intent upon guiding us. She was trying to make the best possible speed. I realized that it was a case of judgment, as well as physical haste. We had dropped into that six-foot pit. Had we waited a few moments longer, the depth would have been a hundred feet, two hundred, a thousand! It would have involved hours of arduous descent—if we had lingered until we were a trifle smaller!
We took other pellets. We traveled perhaps an hour more. There were many instances of Glora's skill. We squeezed into a gully and waited until it widened; we leapt over expanding caverns; we slid down a smooth yellowish slide of rocks, and saw it behind and over us, rising to become a great spreading ramp extending upward into the blue of the sky. Now, up there, little sailing white clouds were visible. And down where we stood it was deep twilight, queerly silvery with the dim light from the luminous rocks, as though some hidden moon were shining.
Strange, new world! I suddenly envisaged the full strangeness of it. Around me were spreading miles of barren, naked landscape. I gazed off to where, across the rugged plateau we were traversing, there was a range of hills. Behind and above them were mountains; serrated tiers; higher and more distant. An infinite spread of landscape! And, as we dwindled, still other vast reaches opened before us. I gazed overhead. Was it—compared to my stature now—a thousand miles, perhaps even a million miles up to where we had been two or three hours ago? I thought so.
Then suddenly I caught the other viewpoint. This was all only an inch of golden quartz—if one were large enough to see it that way!
Alan had been trying to memorize the main topographical features of our route. It was not as difficult as it seemed at first. We were always far larger than normal in comparison to our environment, and the main distinguishing characteristics of the landscape were obvious—the blind gully, with the round pit, for instance, or the ramp slide.
We had been traveling some three or four hours when Glora suggested a rest. We were at the edge of a broad canyon. The wall towered several hundred feet above us; but a few moments before, we had jumped down it with a single leap!
The last pellet we had taken had ceased its action. We sat down to rest. It was a wild, mountainous scene around us, deep with luminous gloom. We could barely see across the canyon to its distant cliff wall. The wall beside us had been smooth, but now it was broken and ridged. There were ravines in it, and dark holes resembling cave-mouths. One was near us. Alan gazed at it apprehensively.
"I say, Glora, I don't like sitting here."
I had been telling her all we knew of Polter. She listened quietly, seldom interrupting me. Then she said:
"I understand. I tell you now about Polter as I have seen him."
She talked for five or ten minutes. I listened, amazed, awed by what she said.
But Alan's insistence interrupted her. "Come on, let's get out of here. That tunnel-mouth, or cave, or whatever it is—"
"But we go in there," she protested. "A little tunnel. That is our way to travel. We are not far from my city now."
Perhaps Alan felt what once was called a hunch, a premonition, the presage of evil which I think comes strangely to us more often than we realize. Whatever it was, we had no time to act upon it. The tunnel-mouth which had caused Alan's apprehension was about a hundred feet away. It was a ten-foot, yawning hole in the cliff. Perhaps Alan sensed a movement in there. As I turned to look at it a great, hairy human arm came out of the opening! Then a shoulder! A head!
The giant figure of a man came squeezing through the hole on his hands and knees! He gathered himself, and as he stood erect, I saw that he was growing in size! Already he was twenty feet tall compared to us—a thick-set fellow, dressed in leather garments, his legs and arms heavily matted with black hair. He stood swaying, gazing around him. I stared up at his round bullet head, his villainous face.
He saw us! Stupid amazement struck him, then comprehension.
He let out a roar and came at us!
Glora shouted, "Into the tunnel! This way!" She held her wits and darted to one side, with Alan and me after her. We ran through a narrow passage between two fifty-foot boulders which lay close together. Momentarily the giant was out of sight, but we could hear his heavy tread and panting breath. We emerged having passed him. He was taller now. He seemed confused at our sudden scampering activity. He checked his forward rush, and ran around the twin boulders. But we had squeezed into a narrow ravine. He could not follow. He threw a rock. To us it was a boulder. It crashed behind us. To him, we were like scampering insects; he could not tell which way we were about to dart.
Alan panted, "Glora, does this lead out?"
The little ravine seemed to open fifty feet ahead of us. Alan stopped, seized a chunk of rock, flung it up. I saw the giant's face above us. He was kneeling to reach in. The rock hit him on the forehead—a pebble, but it stung him. His face rose away.
Again we emerged. The tunnel-mouth was near us. We reached it and flung ourselves into its ten-foot width just as the giant came lunging up. He was far larger than before. Looking back, I could see only the lower part of his legs blocked against the outer light.
"Glora! Alan, where are you?"
For a moment I did not see them. It was darker in this tunnel of broken rocky walls, and jagged arching roof than outside.
Then I heard Alan's voice: "George! Over here!"
They came running to me. For a moment we stood, undecided. My eyes were becoming accustomed to the gloom. The tunnel was illumined by a dim phosphorescence from the rocks. I saw Alan fumbling for his vials, but Glora stopped him.
"No. We are the right size."
We were about a hundred feet back from the opening. The giant's legs disappeared. But in a moment the round, light hole of the exit was obscured again. His head and shoulders! He was lying prone. His great arms came in. He hitched forward. The width of his expanding shoulders wedged.
I think that he expected to reach us with a single snatch of his tremendous arms. Or perhaps he was confused, or forgot his growth. He did not reach us. His shoulders stuck. Then suddenly he was trying to back out, but could not!
It was only a moment. We stood in the radiant gloom of the tunnel, confused and frightened. The giant's voice roared, reverberating around us. Anger. A note of fear. Finally stark terror. He heaved, but the rocks of the opening held solid. Then there was a crack, a gruesome rattling, splintering—his shoulder bones breaking. His whole gigantic body gave a last convulsive lunge, and he emitted a deafening shrill scream of agony.
I was aware of the tunnel-mouth breaking upward. Falling rocks—an avalanche, a cataclysm around us. Then light overhead.
The giant's crushed body lay motionless. A pile of boulders, rocks and loose metallic earth was strewn upon his head and torso, illumined by the outer light through a jagged rent where the cliff-face had fallen down.
We were unhurt, crouching back from the avalanche. The giant's mangled body was still expanding; shoving at the litter of loose rocks. In a moment it would again be too small for the broken cliff opening.
I found my wits. "Alan, we've got to get out of here. God—don't you see what's happening?"
But Glora restrained us. She realized that the effect of the drug the giant had taken was about at its end. The growth presently stopped. That huge noisome mass of pulp which once had been human shoulders no longer expanded.
I shoved Glora away. "Don't look!" I was shaking; my head was reeling. Alan's face, painted by the phosphorescence, was ghastly.
Glora pulled at us. "This way! The tunnel is not too long. We go."
But the giant had drugs, and perhaps weapons. "Wait!" I urged. "You two wait here. I'll climb over him."
I told them why, and ran. I can only leave to the imagination that brief exploratory climb. The broken body seemed at least a hundred feet long; the mangled shoulders and chest filled the great torn hole in the cliff. I climbed over the litter. Indescribable, horrible scene! A river of warm blood was flowing down the declivity outward....
I came back to Glora and Alan. Under my arm was a huge cylinder vial. It was black, the enlarging drug. I set it down. They stared at me in my bloodstained garments.
"His blood, not mine." I tried to smile. "Here's the drug he carried. Evidently Polter was only sending him out because I found just the one drug."
"What'll we do with it?" Alan demanded. "Look at the size of it!"
"Destroy it," said Glora. "See, that is not difficult." She tugged at the huge stopper, and exposed a few of the pellets—to us as large as apples. "The air will soon spoil it."
We left it in the tunnel. I also had with me a great roll of paper which had been folded in the giant's belt, with the drug cylinder. We unrolled it, and hauled its folds to a spread some ten feet long. It was covered with a scrawled handwriting in pencil, but its giant characters seemed thick blurred strokes of charcoal. We could not read it; we were too close. Alan and Glora held it up against the tunnel wall. From a distance I could make it out. It was a note written in English, signed "Polter," evidently to one of his men.
The two prisoners, kill them at once. That is better. It will be too dangerous to wait for my return. Put their bodies with their airplane. Crash it a mile from my gate.
Full directions for our death followed. And Polter said he would return by dawn or soon after.
That gave me a start. By dawn! We had been traveling four or five hours. It was already dawn up there now!
"No," Glora explained, "the time in here is different. A different time-rate. I do not know how much difference. My world speeds faster; yours is very slow. It is not the dawn up there quite yet."
Again my mind strove to encompass these things—so strange. A faster time-rate prevailed in here? Then our lives were passing more quickly. We were living, experiencing things, compressed into a shorter interval. It was not apparent: there was nothing to which comparison could be made. I recalled Alan's description of Polter—not thirty years old as he should have been, but nearer fifty. I could understand that, now. A day in here was equal to only a few hours on our gigantic world outside.
We walked the length of the tunnel. I suppose it was a quarter of a mile, to us in this size. It wound through the cliff with a steady downward slope. And suddenly I realized that we had turned downward nearly half the diameter of a circle! We had turned over—or at least it seemed so. But the gravity was the same. I had noticed from the beginning very little change.
The realization of this tunnel brought a mental confusion. I lost all sense of direction. The outer world of Earth was under my feet, instead of overhead. Then we went level. I forgot the confusion: this was normality here. We turned upward a little. Cross tunnels intersected ours at intervals. I saw caverns, open, widened tunnels, as though this mountain were honeycombed.
"Look!" said Glora. "There is the way out. All these passages lead the same way."
There was a glow of light ahead. I recall that I was at that moment fumbling at my belt in two small compartments in which I was carrying the two vials of the drugs which Glora had given me. Alan wore the same sort of belt. We had found them in the wrecked dome-room. I heard a click on the ground at my feet. I was about to stoop to see what I had kicked—only a loose stone, perhaps—but Glora's words distracted me. I did not stoop. If only I had, how different events might have been!
The glow of light ahead of us widened as we approached, and presently we stood at the end of the tunnel. A spread of open distance was outside. We were on a ledge of a steep rocky wall some fifty feet above a wide level landscape. Vegetation! I saw trees—a forest off to the left. A range of naked hills lay behind it. A mile away, in front and to the right, a little town nestled on the shore of shining water. There was starlight on the water! And over it a vast blue-purple sky was studded with stars.
I gazed, with that first sudden shock of emotion, into the infinite depths of interplanetary space! Light years of distance. Gigantic worlds, blazing suns off there shrunken by distance now to little points of light. A universe was here!
But this was an inch of golden quartz!
Above my head were stars which, compared to my bodily size now, were vast worlds ten thousand light-years away! Yet, from the other viewpoint, I had only descended perhaps an eighth, or a quarter of an inch, beneath the broken pitted surface of a little fragment of golden quartz the size of a walnut—into just one of its myriads of golden atoms!
"My world," Glora was saying. "You like it? See the starlight on the lake? I have heard that your world looks like this at night, in summer. Ours is always like this. No day, no night. Just like this—starlight." Her hand went to Alan's shoulder. "You like it? My world?"
"Yes, Glora. It's very beautiful."
There was a sheen on everything, a soft, glowing sheen of phosphorescence from the rocks rising to meet the pale wan starlight. The night air was soft, with a gentle breeze that rippled the distant lake into a great spread of gold and silver light.
The city was called Orena. I saw at once that we were about normal size in relation to its houses and people. There were fields beneath our ledge, with farm implements lying in them; no workers, for this was the time for sleep. Ribbons of roads wound over the country, pale streamers in the starlight.
Glora gestured, "The giants are on their island. Everyone sleeps now. You see the island off there?"
Beyond the city, over the low stone roofs of its flat-topped dwellings, the silver spread of lake showed a green-clad island some three miles off shore. The distance made its white stone houses seem small. But as I gazed, I realized that they were large compared to their environment, all far larger than those of the little town. The island was perhaps a mile in length. Between it and the mainland a boat was coming toward us. It was a dark blob of hull on the shining water, and above it a queerly shaped circular sail was puffed out, like a balloon parachute, by the wind.
"The giants live there?" said Alan. "You mean Polter's men?"
"And women. Yes."
"Are there many giants?"
"How many?" I put in. "How large are they? In relation to us now, I mean. And to your normal size?"
"You ask so many questions so fast, George. There are two hundred or more of the giants. And there are more than that many thousands of our people, here. Slaves, because the giants are four times as large. This little city, these fields, these hills of stone and metal, all this was ours to have in peace and happiness until your Polter came."
She gestured. "Everywhere is a great reach of desert and forest. There are insects, but no wild beasts—nothing to harm us. Nature is kind here. The weather is always like this. We were happy, until Polter came."
"And only a few thousand people," Alan said. "No other cities?"
"What lies off in the great distance, we do not know. Our nation is ten times what is here. We have a few other cities, and some of our people live in the forests."
She broke off. "That boat is coming for Polter. He is in the city no doubt of that. The boat will take him and that girl you call Babs, to the giant's island. His castle is there."
I turned to Alan. "They must have arrived only recently. Before we go any further we have to decide what size to be. We can't be gigantic because I'm sure he'd kill Babs if he sees us. We've got to plan!"
If we could get on that boat and go with him to the island—But in what size? Very small? But then, if we were very small it would take us hours to get from here to the boat. Glora pointed out where it would land—just beyond the village where the houses were set in a sparse fringe. It would be there, apparently, in ten or fifteen minutes. Polter probably was there now with Babs, waiting for it.
In our present size we could not get there in time. It was two or three miles at least. But a trifle larger—the size of one of Polter's giants—we would be able to make it. We would be seen, but in the pale starlight, keeping away from the city as much as possible, we might only be mistaken for Polter's people. And when we got closer we would diminish our size, creep into the boat, get near Babs and Polter and then plan what to do.
We climbed down from the ledge and stood at the base of the towering cliff which reared its jagged wall against the stars. A field and a road were near us. The road seemed of normal size. A man was in the field. He was apparently about my height. He presently discarded his work, walked away from us and vanished.
"Hurry, Glora." Alan and I stood beside her while she took pellets from her vials. We wanted our stature now to be four times what it was. Glora gave us pellets of both drugs, one of which was slightly more intense than the other.
"Polter made them this way," she said. "The two taken at once give just the growth to take us from this normal size to the stature of the giants."
Alan and I did not touch our own vials. We had used none of our enlarging drug upon the journey, and the supply she had given us of the other was almost gone.
As I took these pellets which Glora now gave us, standing there by the side of that road, I recall that I was struck with the realization that never once upon this journey had I conceived myself to be other than normal stature. I am normally about six feet tall. I still felt—there in that golden atom—the same height. This landscape seemed of normal size. There were trees nearby—spreading, fantastic-looking growths with great strings of pods hanging from them. But still—as I looked up to see one arching over me with its blue-brown leaves and an air-vine carrying vivid yellow blossoms—whatever the size of the tree, I could only conceive of myself as a normal man of six-foot stature standing beneath it. The human ego always supreme! Around each man's consciousness of himself the entire universe revolves.
We crouched on the ground when this growth now began; it would not do to be observed changing size. Polter's giants never did that. Years before, he had made them large—his few hundred men and women. They were, Glora said, people both of this realm and from our great world above—dissolute criminal characters who had now set themselves up here as the nucleus of a ruling race.
In a moment now, we were the size of these giants. Twenty to twenty-five feet tall, in relation to the environment. But I did not feel so. As I stood up—still feeling myself in normal stature—I saw around me a shrunken little landscape. The trees, as though in a Japanese garden, were about my own height; the road was a smooth, level path; the little field near us had a toy fence around it. On another road nearby a man was walking. In height he would barely have reached my knees. He saw us rise beside the trees. He darted off in alarm, and disappeared.
I have taken longer to tell all this than the actual time which passed. We could see the boat coming from the island, and it was still a fair distance off shore. We ran along the road, skirting the edge of the little town. None of its houses were taller than ourselves. The windows and doorways were ovals into which we could only have inserted a head or an arm. Most of them were dark. Little people occasionally stared out, saw us run past, and ducked back, thankful that we did not stop to harass them.
"This way," said Glora. She ran like a faun, hardly winded, with Alan and me heavily panting behind her. "There are trees—thick trees—quite near where the boat lands. We can get in them and hide and change our size to smallness. But hurry, for we shall need a great deal of time when we are small!"
The little spread of town and the shining lake remained always to our right. In five minutes we were past most of the houses. A patch of woods, with thick, interlacing treetops about our own height, lay ahead. It extended a few hundred feet over to the lake shore. The sailboat was heading in close. There was a broad starlit roadway at the edge of the lake, and a dock at which the boat was preparing to land.
Would we be in time? I suddenly feared not. To get small now, with distance lengthening between us and the boat, would be disastrous. And where was Polter?
Abruptly we saw him. There had been only little people visible to us: none of our own height. The lake roadway by the dock was brightly starlit. As we approached the intervening patch of woods it seemed that a crowd of little people were near the dock. Polter must have been sitting. But now he rose up. We could not mistake his thick hunched figure, the lump on his shoulders clear in the starlight with the gleaming lake as a background. The crowd of little figures were milling around his knees. In the silence of the night the murmur of their voices floated over to us.
"There he is!" Alan gasped. We all three checked our running; we were at the edge of the patch of woods. "By God, there he is! Let's get larger and rush him! He's only a few hundred feet away!"