Down the Shaft
first moment, as we flashed down into the great
shaft’s darkness, all my efforts were bent upon the single object of
keeping our plunging sphere from crashing into the shaft’s sides. The
white beams of light that stabbed from our sphere were the one means of
judging our distance from the shaft’s sides.
The sides, as seen in our beams’ light, were
but a swift blur of matter. At the awful speed with which our sphere
was whirling downward nothing more of them was to be seen. And as I
hunched there over the twin control wheels, whose use I had half
learned and half divined in the first awful moments of the great
sphere’s rush, it seemed impossible that, unused as I was to its
operation, I could keep our round vehicle from crashing.
Gripping the wheels, having found that one was
to control the direction of the sphere’s motion and the other its
speed, I strove to keep our great globe rushing straight downward. In
another moment I found that one of the myriad strange instruments
placed above the panel of studs was in the nature of a flight level
indicator. By keeping the red dot that moved along this instrument’s
graduated length exactly at its center I was keeping the sphere falling
With this discovery I breathed a little
easier, then stiffened as Darrell, who was crouching beside me, gave a
startled cry. He was pointing through the upper portion of our curving
control room window.
“Above us, Vance!” he was crying. “Two
spheres—they’re pursuing us down the shaft!”
I whirled the speed wheel again and as the
humming beneath us waxed deeper our great sphere shot ahead faster and
faster. It seemed straining beyond its normal speed in its wild rush
straight toward the center of the earth. But above the white beams were
dropping nearer, overtaking us, operated as they were by the flesh
creatures who understood them far better than I. They had means of
increasing their speed that I did not know.
For long minutes we rushed down, pursuers and
pursued plunging at a speed that was slowly causing the sphere to
become hotter and hotter. Down into and through darkness unimaginable.
Then as they drew steadily closer, the two spheres shot two narrow
yellow rays stabbing down toward us!
I cried hoarsely to Darrell as I swerved our
downrushing sphere almost to the great shaft’s side to evade them. “The
rays—they mean to get us with the rays!”
“Not if we can strike back at them!” he
shouted. “If I could find the control of our own sphere’s rays—”
He was frantically examining the myriad
strange instruments and switch batteries that were set in the little
control room’s sides. In another instant their rays shot down toward us
again, their white light beams holding us in their glare. But with
another wild swerve of the sphere I managed to escape the twin shafts
of destruction. This time, though, I almost crashed the sphere into the
other uprushing wall of the great shaft. I knew that we could not
continue to escape them thus for long.
Then came another shout from Darrell and I
turned to see that he had gripped a strange control set beside the
control room’s window, a metal globe that was a tiny replica of our
great globe with small studs set at six equidistant points on its
Darrell pressed upon the stud at the little
sphere’s top. As he did so there stabbed suddenly upward from the top
of our own sphere a brilliant yellow beam that leaped upward and just
between our two pursuers overhead! For an instant they seemed daunted
by that unexpected shaft, fell back above us a little, but then they
were plunging down again with renewed speed, their own yellow beams
clashing and crossing with ours in the shaft.
NEVER could there have been combat so wild and
strange as that between three great spheres rushing down into the
darkness and mystery of the great shaft, into the depths of the earth.
I heard Darrell’s hoarse exclamation as he sent our own rays stabbing
up toward our pursuers, heard even above the great humming of the
spheres and the rush of air about us the dull and distant detonations
caused by the rays striking the great shaft’s walls.
Whirling our plunging sphere precariously to
this side and that, grazing the shaft’s walls in wild efforts to escape
the yellow rays that stabbed down about us, I realized that the two
pursuing spheres above were drawing closer and closer. They would soon
be upon us and able to loose their rays upon us without a chance of our
In one last desperate expedient lay our only
hope of escape. Above the wild melange of sound about us I shouted a
few brief words to Darrell. He nodded swiftly as he understood my plan.
Gripping the wheels tightly, I waited for a breathless instant, then
suddenly closed the speed control, whirling its wheel around and
slackening the downward speed of our great sphere with breathtaking
So unexpected was that slowing of ours that,
even as I hoped, the two spheres above were past us on either side
before they could comprehend our action or could slow their own
spheres. In the next moment, as we hung for a moment above them,
Darrell sent our yellow ray stabbing down upon them, striking both
For a moment they seemed to hesitate and then,
as the brilliant beam of death struck them, both seemed to melt
abruptly and vanish! Then came the sharp detonations caused by the
surrounding air rushing into the vacuum left by the spheres’
We were alone in the darkness of the great
shaft, moving downward now at slow speed as we relaxed, half
disbelieving our escape from those two relentless enemies. The only
sound now was the humming of our own sphere and as we looked up and
downward we saw that the only light in the great shaft was that of our
own sphere’s white beams, circling slowly about as our globe of metal
“We got both spheres!” Darrell exclaimed,
leaning wearily against the wall.
“Yes, and no more will be after us from
above,” I said, glancing upward. “They had no time to give the alarm to
the other scores of spheres watching above.”
“We’ve escaped them, at least,” Darrell said.
“But what lies beneath?”
“We must be many miles down the shaft
already,” I said, “but there’s no change that I can see in the shaft’s
size or darkness. We must simply keep on, Darrell.”
I opened again the speed control. As our
sphere shot downward once more, falling smoothly again into the great
shaft’s dark depths, we watched carefully the few details of its walls
that were visible in the light of the white beams.
Minutes before, during our wild running fight,
we had flashed past and beneath the levels of limestone and sandstone
and all the upper strata. As far as we could make out in the uncertain
vision of our downward rush we were now falling between walls of
igneous fire formed rock. the great shaft’s opening having been driven
smoothly and vertically up through them.
Down—down—down—the shaft seemed endless to me
as I gazed into the unfathomable darkness that lay beneath us, a
darkness in which the beams of our sphere seemed overwhelmed. We were
humming downward at a speed that was as great almost as that of our
As the moments sped past I knew that we must
be sinking farther and farther beneath the surface of earth each
moment. Yet still the darkness and the curving walls of the great shaft
about us were the same.
Intent upon the darkness below, in the hope of
glimpsing something in that darkness, neither Darrell nor I noticed
until moments later an item which had been thrusting itself upon us
increasingly with each passing moment. The sphere and the air inside it
were growing steadily hotter.
AS OUR minds took in this fact we exchanged
sudden glances. Already we were breathing with some difficulty and
already the metal of the sphere about us seemed to have become almost
too hot to touch. As we gazed downward we saw in the darkness beneath a
strange feeble glow of light, a flickering sulphurous light that was
becoming slowly stronger.
Already, I knew, we must be hundreds of miles
beneath earth’s surface. And as the sulphurous glow beneath us grew in
intensity, as the heat about us became stronger and stronger, it seemed
that our sphere must needs be falling straight to a fiery death. Yet
the great shaft’s walls fell still vertically downward and though the
walls of rock seemed glowing themselves with their own great heat I
held the sphere’s course straight downward with Darrell beside me
gripping my arm.
There could be no doubt that the walls about
us were radiating their own intense heat and light. I held the sphere
as exactly as possible to the shaft’s center and we fell on downward,
away from those glowing walls of rock.
Within moments the glow about and beneath us
had become intense, terrible, and we could see that they were of solid
rock no longer but of glowing, half melting, half fusing rock, becoming
less and less solid.
We could glimpse flashing portions of the
walls flowing and moving slowly in thick molten currents, their fierce
light strong upon us. It was as though we were falling through the
center of a fiery hell. The terrific heat that radiated from the walls
seemed to wither us as we crouched there!
The metal of the sphere had become burning to
the touch, the air within it all but stifling. As we choked and panted
I knew that even to brush against the molten walls through which we
were falling would be to annihilate our sphere in their searing heat.
It seemed incredible that they had not flowed in upon the shaft and
“We can’t go on,” Darrell gasped, his face
flushed, his eyes rolling wildly. “This is unbearable.”
I agreed weakly. I felt as though I could
stand it for only a few minutes more. We were reaching the end. But
then a sudden thought flashed through my tortured brain. How did those
fleshy monsters stand it? They must have some means to protect
themselves against a furnace in which no living thing could exist.
I told Darrell my thought. His head jerked up
“Yes, that must be so. But how?”
“The controls,” I said, “try them. There must
be one to handle it.”
And as I slackened the speed so that we were
jerked against the floor of the sphere Darrell with his last strength
fingered the other strange controls that lined the panels, trying this
one and that. There was one set like a knob that caught his attention.
It was on a wall and apparently had no relation to the others.
“I don’t know what we’re doing,” he laughed
weakly, “I may be plunging us to destruction with this.”
“It’s destruction anyway,” I murmured. “Do
anything to get us from this unbearable heat.”
I saw him turn the knob clear around. And of a
sudden there came a loud sputtering and whistling as of air being
suddenly swirled. It seemed as though a tornado had broken loose
outside our car. I had to use all my energy to keep the car on its path.
But to my utter surprise and relief in a few
seconds the air became gradually cooler. The walls, which had begun to
take on a reddish glow, went dark again. I saw Darrell smile at me
weakly and then slump to the floor in a dead faint.
Although the air was becoming cooler the walls
of the shaft were just as hot. These creatures then had some strange
means of getting a local refrigeration. The violent displacement of the
air was caused by the cooled air about our car giving way to the more
In a few minutes the atmosphere of the car had
become bearable again. In fact it was steadily growing cold. Slowing up
the car I reached over and, letting go of the control wheel for a
moment, flipped halfway back the knob that Darrell had turned. The air
became slightly warmer and the raging of the driven air outside
Darrell gradually came back to consciousness
as we plunged down again. He slowly rose to his feet and gazed about
“We’re saved again.” He smiled. “And what now?”
What now? That was the question in my own mind.
Then there was a sudden increase in the
thunderous sound and fierce light and searing heat about us. We seemed
for an instant to be whirling down into solid flames about and beneath
us. As in a flash, a great circular opening in the walls of fiery light
appeared directly beneath us. Our sphere fell downward still at its
tremendous speed and we shot suddenly into open space, into a vast,
apparently empty space.
“Through!” Darrell shouted as we shot on,
downward with the shafts opening and the molten walls above us. “We’ve
“Through!” I repeated, unconsciously bringing
our falling sphere to a halt. “Through—but into what?”
FOR, as we hung there, our first wild moment
of exaltation over, Darrell and I gazed out our sphere’s window with an
amazement that each moment deepened. For the space that stretched now
about and below us was vast, gigantic!
Just above us was stretched over our heads,
like a vast glowing roof, a far stretching surface of molten glowing
rock, a fiery sea of intense heat and light from horizon to horizon,
literally, hanging above our heads like a strange sky of flowing flame!
We could see slow vast currents in that molten
roof above us, could see also in it a round dark opening just above us,
the opening of the shaft down which we had come, the shaft that led up
to earth’s surface!
Our eyes followed the giant curve of that
fiery roof, saw that it was like a great dome above us, like the dome
of earth’s own sky, but a sky of glowing fire, curving downward so far
away that we could hardly glimpse it. Thus the earth was really a
gigantic hollow shell that enclosed within itself a vast space that to
our stunned eyes seemed immeasurable.
We were within earth’s shell! And that shell
of a thickness of not more than a thousand miles even as men had found,
grew in temperature with each mile of its depth. Its inner surface was
a giant sea of molten rock, clinging to the inner surface of earth’s
shell as unalterably as earth’s seas cling to its outer shell because
the center of gravity of the giant shelf lay somewhere within its own
And that was why the molten sea of the roof
that curved above us and beneath and all about us did not fall upon us.
It could not any more than earth’s seas can all fall outward into
space. But the greatest wonder was to come. For of a sudden we saw
below us as though suspended in the hollow of the great shell a great
A world! A great spherical world that was half
the diameter of this great hollow space, that hung beneath us at its
center, motionless but turning! A great world, here inside our own
world’s shell, warmed and lit by the never ceasing glowing light and
heat from the molten inner surface that enclosed the space in which it
“A world!” my exclamation was stunned, awed.
“A world hidden here at earth’s heart.”
Darrell’s voice was as hushed with awe as my
own. “A world in this great space inside our own world! And turning
even as earth is turning, Vance!”
As we gazed tensely down we could make out
more features of its gleaming surface, could see that it was covered
with vaguely-glimpsed structures silhouetted in the light of the
encircling molten shell. We could make out too the great outlines of
some colossal greater structure almost directly beneath us and could
glimpse, even from our height, swarms of swift shapes driving to and
fro above this strange world’s surface!
I pointed eagerly down toward them. “Those
spheres, Darrell!” I exclaimed. “Those gleaming buildings—it means that
this is the flesh creatures’ world—that it is down here they took
Kelsall and Fenton!”
DARRELL nodded, his eyes alight, “They’re down
here somewhere if they’re still living. But have we any chance to get
to them, Vance, to get them clear and back up the shaft?”
“We must try,” I said. “In this sphere we can
at least move about over the surface of this world without the flesh
creatures suspecting our presence. If we can find some trace of them,
we should be able to get to them and get back to the shaft.”
“It’s our one chance,” Darrell agreed.
I nodded grimly, gripping the control wheels
once more, and then as I turned them our great sphere was failing
again, humming straight down toward the great turning world beneath us.
Above us the great molten glowing roof of this vast space was receding.
Gazing out as we fell, Darrell and I were able
to appreciate to the full the vast size of this great hollow at earth’s
heart, this colossal space enclosed by earth’s great shell. For to us
it seemed that we were falling through open space, a space hounded in
all directions not by blue sky but by a great glowing curving roof.
Within moments we had fallen so near to it
that the turning world seemed to fill all space beneath us, shutting
from view the other curving molten inner side of earth’s shell that
stretched far beneath it. We could see that this spherical world was
covered almost completely with strange gleaming structures, rectangular
in form and rather flat, mighty structures between which there ran the
The streets gleamed as did the great
structures in the glow of the molten sky surrounding this world. When
we dropped nearer we saw why they did so, saw that streets and
structures alike were transparent! They were built of some transparent
metal or alloy that made them seem like giant structures of glass.
Coming closer and closer through the flat
transparent roofs and walls we could make out vaguely the swarming
masses of great white flesh monsters and the strange masses of objects
and mechanisms that those buildings held!
It was a city in which level was built upon
level, numberless strata of streets and structures lying over each
other, their transparent roofs and streets and walls allowing the light
and heat that beat down upon this world to penetrate to the lowest
levels! Here and there we could make out great well like openings that
dropped down through countless levels, while almost beneath us upon the
uppermost level lay the greatest and strangest structure visible on
this strange world’s surface.
It was a giant black shining disk, quite flat,
fully five hundred feet in diameter. Beside it lay a smaller and
similar disk, but a hundredth of the larger one’s diameter. Besidle
both disks were a row of great transparent buildings or structures,
crowded with half glimpsed mechanisms which seemed in themselves more
or less transparent and with countless flesh creatures. And this great
disk was of the same diameter as the great open shaft through which we
Even as that fact impressed itself upon my
brain Darrell cried out, pointed downward toward the great swarms of
spheres moving to and fro over the world beneath us. We had been
humming swiftly down toward them without giving them attention for the
moment, engrossed as we were by the astounding spectacle of the strange
But now, as Darrell shouted, I felt a sudden
stab of icy fear. For those swarming spheres had given way to all sides
beneath us and up through them was rushing a close-massed swarm of more
than a hundred gathered spheres, a hundred spheres that were whirling
swiftly straight up toward ourselves!