to me during the seemingly-endless hours of
that day that these questions were making of my mind a chaos of wild
suggestions and counter suggestions. The whole strange thing that had
occurred, that was occurring, was so utterly alien to the natural
course of events, so utterly inexplicable by any natural reasons, that
it was only with an effort that I could consider it even in the hope of
finding some explanation.
And as explanation there was none I could only
give the thing up at last, ceasing my attempts to comprehend, and
concentrating my scattered thoughts as much as possible upon the
predicament in which we now found ourselves.
That our situation was in truth a desperate
one was more and more apparent to us every hour. For as the burning sun
slowly traversed its path across the heavens overhead, blazing down
upon us and all about us with its full blistering heat, we saw that
escape was as remote as ever.
The great flesh monsters in the clearing, whom
I had hoped the sun’s heat would drive to the shelter of their spheres,
seemed quite unaffected by it. It was a thing that puzzled me somewhat
since it seemed to me that creatures from some cavernous and sunless
space beneath would needs be seared to death by the scorching rays of
the equatorial sun.
But it was apparent that those rays harmed
them not at all. And high overhead the great ring of circling spheres
still patrolled watchfully, still hummed here and there in their watch
of the country around their great shaft, so that to break from our
retreat though for but a moment would be suicide.
Yet suicide it seemed to Darrell and myself to
stay in that retreat as the slow hours of that day dragged past. For we
knew that not much longer could we stand this killing combination of
heat, hunger and thirst. Our lack of water, indeed, we appeased a
little by chewing a twig from time to time but our hunger was steadily
growing and the heat of the blazing sun above was penetrating to us and
making us dizzy.
Once, I remember, I returned to realization of
my surroundings from such a giddiness to find myself standing erect and
would have stumbled into the clearing had not Darrell held me back. Yet
the great white monsters there at the shaft’s mouth remained there
still as watchfully as ever, their cube-containers of the yellow ray
always in their grasp or at hand.
Once we saw them draw out from their spheres
flexible metal tubes which they inserted in the small holes or
apertures in their mouths. We guessed that they were feeding, were
drawing from containers or reservoirs in the spheres some liquid or
semi liquid food.
Save for this incident, there was no break in
the deadly monotony of the hours. As, after a time that seemed an age,
we saw the sun settling westward my tortured state of mind became all
And then, as night crept again swiftly across
the world, the great ring of circling spheres above snapped into being
again their white stabbing searchlight beams, keeping still their never
ceasing and enigmatic watch. The three spheres around the great shaft
sent their own beams stabbing forth to bathe all the clearing about
them in white light also.
Sunk into a torpor of despair, Darrell and I
were roused shortly after the coming of night by a sudden swift flurry
of action in one of the rivers north of us. There was the swash of some
great reptile in its waters and at the sound from one of the circling
spheres above a narrow yellow my cut down toward the creature, blasting
it instantly from existence with a sharp detonation.
I saw the yellow beam stabbing downward,
guessed its nature, surmising it to be some form of electronic stream
shot with intense concentrated power. This, as I was later to learn,
was correct, the yellow ray being in effect a highly concentrated
stream of independent electrons, which were gathered in a special de
atomizing chamber and then shot forth in a concentrated stream with
It was thus very much similar in some ways to
the well known Coolidge or cathode ray of our own scientists. But it
was immeasurably more concentrated and forceful so that it had upon all
matter it touched an annihilating effect.
THE yellow electron stream was of such force
as to wreck completely all atomic structures it touched, by smashing
the revolving electrons of that matter’s atoms into their central
protons or knocking them completely loose from those protons. Thus in
an instant it destroyed the matter it touched, transforming it into a
comparatively tiny scattered swarm of protons and loose electrons.
It was by means of a similar ray of gigantic
size and power that the flesh monsters had driven their great shaft
upward to earth’s surface. And it was the same ray in an altered form
that was used to drive the great spheres at such speed through the air,
a projector at the rear of each sphere shooting forth a somewhat less
powerful fanlike ray into the air behind.
This weaker and broader ray, invisible because
of its weakness, had not enough force or concentration to destroy the
air behind it with its broad electron stream. But it shot forth at
sufficient speed against the air’s atoms to result in a definite push
against them, its push being utilized to send the sphere driving
forward, its direction being altered by changing the direction of the
rear-projector, while its speed was varied by increasing or decreasing
the force of the electron stream.
During our watch so far Darrell and I had
divined some of these facts—but as I saw the yellow ray stab downward
to the north of us it suggested something to me. I turned swiftly to
Darrell and then in a tense whisper outlined to him my plan.
I felt that it held our only chance of action,
since I knew that we could not lie much longer in our retreat, fighting
the combined influences of heat, hunger, thirst and mental agony. It
was with conviction that I told, Darrell the scheme, wild as it was,
held our only hope.
“It’s our one chance, Darrell,” I whispered.
“Our one chance to get down that great shaft—to follow Kelsall and
Fenton into whatever strange world they’ve been taken and rescue them,
bring them back!”
Darrell slowly nodded. “We’ll have to try it,
Vance. If we could get free—could warn the world of the coming of these
things—we’d do so swiftly enough. But there’s no chance for us to get
out of this place with all those spheres above and there is a chance to
get down the shaft.”
“It’s so, Darrell,” I said. “And if we can get
down there, bring Kelsall and Fenton back with us, we should be able to
break through these guarding spheres here and carry the truth to the
We were both silent for a moment, as a little
to the north and above a sphere hummed past with white beam circling.
Then, half rising, I began to carry out our risky plan of action.
Turning a glance first upon the things in the
clearing, I saw that the three spheres still rested around the great
shaft, the flesh monsters were still grouped around and partly within
them. Their white beams bathed all the clearing.
If we were to steal one of those spheres, as
we planned now to do, we must get those great creatures away from them,
if only for a moment. To achieve that purpose I moved silently in the
darkness on the ground and in the growths about us.
In a moment my groping fingers encountered
that which they sought, a long and heavy section of dead limb that lay
rotting in the mold beside us. I grasped it tightly and then Darrell
and I were creeping from our place of concealment in the thick brush,
were creeping out until we crouched down just at the clearing’s edge,
our eyes upon the group of spheres and flesh monsters at its center
around the shaft’s mouth.
We waited there, all nerves taut, waited until
the humming spheres that came and went high above seemed for the moment
to have passed over and beyond us. Then, half rising, I whirled the big
length of wood silently around my head and then threw it with all my
force toward the river west of us. It splashed loudly, the sound
tremendous in my strained ears amid the comparative silence that had
lain all about us.
Instantly the flesh monsters around the
spheres had risen, listening. The next moment they were hurrying with
great effort across the clearing toward the river west of it, forsaking
the spheres for the moment to investigate the source of that splashing
noise, their ray cubes ready in their grasp.
Tensely we watched as they hastened away and
saw that in only one of the spheres, that nearest us, did there seem
still to be any of the creatures, two of them remaining inside as
though on guard. The remainder of the flesh creatures were already
halfway to the river.
Darrell and I saw instantly that to overcome
the two creatures whom we could glimpse in the nearest sphere was our
single chance. So, silently but as swiftly as possible, we crept out
into the clearing and the white light that lay scross it toward that
AS WE crept out into that white light, our
automatics ready in our grasp, I heard the whistling speech of the
creatures, that were almost at the river’s edge. I prayed that none
might turn back toward us, that none of the spheres might hum down over
us in those seconds.
On toward the nearest sphere we moved, half
crawling, half running, keeping out of line with its round open door so
that the two creatures inside might not glimpse us. It was the sphere
furthest from the creatures at the river bank and in the moments that
we crept toward it we kept its great round gleaming bulk as well as we
could between those flesh monsters and ourselves.
Hearts pounding with excitement and suspense,
we neared the sphere. As though to favor our venture the humming
spheres that came and went above seemed to have expanded their ring
still further or to be hovering over the land around the clearing
rather than over the clearing itself.
I could glimpse their flashing white beams
high in the darkness to north and south, could glimpse too the
unchanging white stars above. I could hear the whistling speech-sounds
of the two flesh monsters inside the sphere as we crept nearer its open
Another moment and we were peering within. The
sphere’s interior was divided into compartments by square walls within
it. From the round door a narrow corridor led across the sphere’s mass
toward a small control room on its opposite side, one in which we could
glimpse the switches and strange instruments that guided the great
The door was near the ground, the corridor
through the sphere slanting upward. It was in this corridor that the
two flesh monsters were standing, their backs toward us. They were
gazing in the other direction through the transparent wall or window of
the control room to the river bank, where their fellows were now
Without a sound Darrell and I crept through
the door’s round opening into the corridor behind the two great
creatures, noting that each held in its grasp one of the ray-cubes. Up
the corridor’s slanting floor, into the sphere, we moved toward them.
Another moment would have seen us directly upon them but at that
instant Darrell’s foot slipped upon the floor of the metal sided
As he fell the two creatures whirled instantly
toward us! But as their strange arms flashed up with the ray cubes in
their grasp we leaped upon them. Before they had time to give warning
to their fellows with a single whistling cry we were grappling with
them in a swift intense fury!
I felt the great mass of the monster with whom
I struggled pressing down upon me, felt its thick strange arms reaching
to grip me or to bring the metal cube of the yellow ray into play. But
the creature seemed capable of moving each big arm or limb only with an
Before it could crush me to the floor I raised
the pistol in my hand, pressed its muzzle between the great staring eye
and the horizontal row of holes that was its mouth. As I pressed the
trigger there was a muffled report and the great mass before me tumbled
downward, carrying me to the corridor floor with it.
I sprang up to find the other monster had
borne Darrell against the wall with all its great weight. But Darrell’s
pistol had come up against the creature’s body and as muffled reports
sounded simultaneously from our weapons it too fell. But this one, in
the instant before it died, gave vent to a great whistling cry!
Instantly its cry was answered by other cries
from the mass of flesh monsters at the river’s edge. As we thrust the
two lifeless creatures out of the sphere we saw the others rushing
madly across the clearing toward us! I shouted hoarsely to Darrell,
sprang down the sphere’s little corridor into the controlroom at its
end, cast for a moment an agonized glance around that little room.
The whole curving front was one great
transparent window, through which I could see the flesh monsters
hobbling toward us. They had not loosed upon us the rays of the cubes
they carried, thinking no doubt that in the sphere were still their two
fellows. I surveyed swiftly the controls of the sphere thaf lay before
The main feature of those controls seemed to
be a row of metal studs set into a low panel, in front of which rose
from the floor two low metal standards. Upon the top of each was set
horizontally a small metal wheel, I grasped these wheels, turned them,
twisted them, but there came no response from the great sphere’s
mechanism. In another moment the flesh creatures outside would reach us!
I heard Darrell shout something to me, reached
forward then in desperation and began snapping out the studs in the
panel, one after another. Then, as I tried the centermost of those
studs there sounded suddenly a welcome and powerful humming from
somewhere in the sphere beneath us.
From outside came whistling cries as the flesh
monsters rushed over the last few yards of the clearing toward our
sphere’s door. I heard Darrell’s gun cracking as he strove to hold them
back. For an instant they fell back before his fire but then, seeing
through the door that the sphere held none of their fellows, they were
raising their deadly cubes toward us!
At that moment my hands flashed back to the
two wheels, turned them again. As the first of them moved beneath my
hands the great bulk of our humming sphere jerked suddenly up and
forward over the great black mouth of the mighty shaft!
Hanging above its black depths I heard cries
from the flesh creatures below, glimpsed them running suddenly toward
the two other spheres at the shaft’s edge, heard the clang of our own
sphere’s round door as Darrell slammed it shut.
Then I spun the central wheel and even as the
running flesh creatures sent a dozen yellow beams stabbing toward us
our great sphere plunged suddenly downward! Downward into the blackness
of the shaft at the sphere’s full speed, downward toward whatever
mighty mystery or menace lay below!