Origin of the Hidden World
impulse was to send our sphere flashing across
the hall toward them and with our own rays send their captors to
annihilation. But Darrell’s hand was suddenly strong upon my wrist and
though his eyes were as alight with excitement as my own he restrained
my wild impulse.
“Not now, Vance!” he whispered tensely. “We’ve
found them—but we can’t make a move now!”
“Found them—yes!” I said, my heart hammering.
“But why have they been brought here—brought before these things?”
“We’ll soon see,” Darrell said. “Hold
steady—and our chance to free them will come.”
So I waited with Darrell, gazing tensely
toward the figures of our friends on the great balcony. Their guards
held them face to face with the great flesh monster who had been
speaking to us. And as he surveyed them for a moment with his great eye
we saw them returning his gaze, Kelsall’s strong face drawn but steady,
Fenton standing beside him with a hand upon his shoulder.
We saw them venture a glance around the great
sphere filled hall and could see that their belts no longer held their
pistols. Then, as Kelsall and Fenton faced the great flesh-monster, he
began to speak to them in the whistling speech sounds of these things.
A moment only he spoke to them and to the
amazement of Darrell and myself, when he had finished, Kelsall replied
to him in the same whistling sounds or in a human voiced imitation of
them! There was silence when he had finished.
Then the creature, suddenly threatening and
baleful in aspect, spoke to them again in a long deliberate exhortation
of some sort. His whistling sounds, unintelligible to us, were listened
to intently by Kelsall and Fenton as well as by all the creatures in
the spheres about us.
And when the great monster had finished our
two friends replied to him instantly with a single whistling sound, a
single phrase or word. And as they did so there rose from all the flesh
things in the gathered spheres about us a sudden babel of whistling
Darrell and I gazed across the hall tensely as
the strange and sudden tumult arose, precipitated as it had been by
whatever answer Kelsall and Fenton had made to the speech of the great
creature before them. His whole attitude in that moment was as eloquent
of anger as that of such an alien creature could be.
My hands tightened upon the controls. I looked
for the thing to give an instant order for the death of our friends, so
fierce and evident was the anger of all about us at whatever response
they had made to hint Instead, though, the thing gave only a brief
order to the half score guards and they stepped instantly forward.
Still holding our friends they marched them
back through the great door in the wall from which they had come. And
then, as Kelsall and Fenton disappeared with their guards, the standing
monster on the balcony turned back to the gathered spheres and again
spoke to them.
As we heard his whistling speech, Darrell and
I were gripped with tense impatience for we wanted only to follow our
friends and their guards, yet dared make no move toward the door behind
the balcony until the creatures upon it were gone. Tensely we waited,
knowing that with each moment the guards and our friends would be
farther from us.
Then, with a final whistling order, the great
creature on the balcony ceased speaking. The spheres that filled the
hall began to out of it. Pretending to join them, I held our own sphere
in the hall and Darrell and I saw the twelve flesh monsters on the
balcony passing back from it through the great door in the wall behind
Then they were gone and soon the last of the
great spheres had sped out of the mighty hall except our own. Instantly
then I sent our own sphere driving across the huge room toward the
balcony and the great door behind it.
Balcony and door were set in the great wall
just above the sixtieth level. We reached them quickly and our big
sphere proved small enough to pass easily through the portal. As we
shot through it we found ourselves within the fifty ninth level, feebly
and duskily lit by what light came down through the transparent levels
Before us stretched great rows of vast
machines like those we had glimpsed from the well. Those about us were
engaged in turning forth metal ingots which were conveyed automatically
to the great presses that shaped them into plates.
SWIFTLY we gazed about us but we could see
nothing of our friends amid the swarming activity of flesh creatures
and machines of the guards. Then, as sharp despair seemed upon us once
more, Darrell pointed away through great rows of the mechanisms and I
made out the forms of the half score guards, still grouped about our
two friends, marching with them between the two great rows of machines.
Instantly I sent our sphere humming after
them, holding it until, at a low speed, we were following them at a
distance of a hundred yards or so. As we shot after them, curving now
and then around some larger mechanism, we evoked no attention whatever
from the flesh creatures busy in countless numbers at the machines
around us, since scores of other spheres like our own were darting to
and fro within this level upon errands of their own.
We became aware that ahead the great
mechanisms were coming to an end, their long rows giving place to a
series of transparent walled rooms of metal constructed in rows or
blocks. Down a broad avenue between two such long rows of transparent,
walled rooms the guards were moving with our two friends and slowly our
big sphere followed them.
Most of the rooms on either side of us were
storerooms of various materials, apparently too valuable to be allowed
to lie loosely about. Some of them held masses of shining ores strange
to us, others intricate mechanisms whose purposes we could not even
guess, still others stores of what seemed projectors of the yellow ray.
In none, though, were any of the flesh creatures.
As we moved on behind the guards and our two
friends we became aware that the clangor and hum of sound from the
great machines behind was becoming fainter and fainter, that in these
blocks of store rooms and avenues into which we were moving there
seemed hardly any flesh creatures visible. Then as the guards around
Kelsall and Fenton, far ahead of us, turned suddenly into an avenue
leading to the left, they vanished from our view.
By the time that our own sphere had reached
the turn and halted a little short of it we could see along this dusky
branching corridor. The guards had halted Kelsall and Fenton for a
moment at the door of a transparent walled room, were opening that door.
This branching corridor was too narrow for our
big sphere to enter and as we hovered there we saw the guards thrust
our two friends inside, then close the door sharply after them,
tampering for a moment after with some device upon its surface. Then
they turned from the door and two of the flesh-creatures having posted
themselves before it, ray cubes in their grasp. The remaining eight
came back toward the main avenue, toward ourselves.
At once I moved our sphere backward and sent
it rising swiftly upward. The avenue, like the rooms on either side of
it, extended clear to the roof of the fifty ninth level, a hundred feet
above, and the eight guards, unconscious of our presence above them,
passed beneath us toward the great oval hall.
A MOMENT more and they were lost to view. I
brought the sphere down to the floor again, to where the narrower
corridor branched from the avenue. Keeping well back out of sight of
the two guards, Darrell and I looked about us to make certain that none
of the flesh creatures were in this quiet section of store rooms.
“Now is our chance!” Darrell whispered. “If we
can overpower those two guards and get Kelsall and Fenton out of that
cell and into our sphere we’ll be able to make our way back up the
shaft to earth’s surface!”
“We still have our pistols,” I said.
“Yes, but no noise if it can be helped,
Vance,” he cautioned. “A shot is liable to bring a swarm of the
creatures upon us.”
Having seen to the magazines of our automatics
we turned toward the round door of our sphere, swung it quietly open. I
took a quick step onto the great avenue’s translucent floor and found
myself rocketing smoothly upward toward the roof!
Fear gripped my heart. I heard a hoarse
whisper from Darrell below and then as he stepped out from the sphere
he was falling smoothly upward with me. Our heads had bumped gently
against the roof of the level and then we were falling as smoothly and
gently downward, lighting like falling feathers upon the avenue’s floor!
Crouching far back in the avenue from the
corridor of the two guards and our friends’ cell, we lay with hearts
pounding, finding that each slight stir of our muscles caused us to
float up for a yard or more from the floor.
Then abruptly light came to me. “The gravity,
Darrell!” I whispered. “You remember how the flesh creatures could
hardly move on our own world’s surface? It’s the same with us, only
I saw comprehension in his eyes. Crouching in
our sphere, holding to the controls and moving constantly to and fro,
we had not noticed this. But immediately upon emerging from the sphere
and using our muscles it had become apparent to us in this startling
After a few moments’ experimentation we found
that by lying flat and crawling slowly forward as a swimmer might crawl
upon a pool’s bottom we could progress forward at fair speed and in
silence. We crept down the avenue toward the narrow corridor that
branched to the left from it, in which were stationed the two guards
outside the cell of our friends.
IN A moment we had reached the corridor.
Through the dim dusk that reigned on this level we could make out
vaguely the great white shapes, standing outside the cell door, ray
cubes watchfully in their grasp. I turned to Darrell for a last word
with him before we leaped upon the two guards. And as I turned there
was a violent rocking and swaying of the floor beneath us.
The whole strange world seemed to rock and
quake about us. There was a distant, thunderous booming detonation, an
awful grinding roar that continued for minutes before dying away. As it
did die away there came strange whistling cries from all about and
above and beneath us, a babel of alarms.
We could make out hordes of the
flesh-creatures, rushing toward some point in the distance. Darrell and
I regarded each other with astonishment, then gave it up as the uproar
of alarm in the levels about us died down somewhat. Whatever had caused
that tremendous shock and quake, that had caused the alarm of the flesh
creatures, we dared not lose time now in speculation.
Creeping again to the corridor, we saw that
the two guards, shaken and astonished, were holding their stations,
though discussing the thing in their high whistling voices.
We reversed our pistols and gathered
ourselves. Then with all the power of our muscles we went flying
through the air in a great leap toward them!
Buoyed up as we were by the infinitely smaller
gravity of this hidden world, we were upon them in a single mighty
leap! They heard our jump, turned swiftly toward us, their deadly ray
But before they could loose the brilliant
yellow death within those cubes we hurtled down upon them and knocked
the cubes from their grasp. At the same moment I felt my own pistol
knocked free by the force of our own impact, and then, weaponless as
the creatures before me, I was struggling wildly with one of them while
Darrell grappled the other!
I felt the thick arms of the big flesh
monster’s lower body grip me tightly, felt him bear me to the floor
with his great weight. I struck out with all my strength at the
features of the thing. As we rolled and swayed there in that flashing
moment the single great staring eye, the strange apertures of the
mouth, were directly beside my own face, within an inch of mine.
Those nightmare features so close to my own
sickened me. I felt my strength fast waning. I had a glimpse of Darrell
struggling wildly with the other monster beside me and then the grip of
great arms was tightening in a spine crushing grasp!
I struck out again, again, again but my blows
seemed to fall without effect upon the great flesh mass with which I
struggled. I felt my strength melting from me in stabs of excruciating
pain, felt my senses darkening beneath thrusts of pain.
Then as from a great distance I heard a dull
report, a moment later another. At the second the grip about me
abruptly loosened. I staggered up from my antagonist’s grasp to see him
quivering in a last convulsion on the floor. The other was already
dead! Over them, panting and disheveled, stood Darrell, his still
smoking pistol in his hand.
We listened intently for a moment but heard no
sound of alarm to indicate that our shot had been heard by the
creatures in the levels above and beneath. Quickly Darrell and I raced
farther down the corridor, were racing down toward the door through
which we had seen our two friends thrust.
It was a tall door, made of the same
transparent metal as the walls of the rooms about us. And there,
pressed against its inner side, gazing with wide eyes up the corridor
toward the scene of the battle we had just taken part in, were Kelsall
“Darrell—Vance!” Kelsall’s astounded voice
came out to us through the little ventilation holes set in the door and
walls of their transparent cell. “How did you two get down here?”
“Kelsall!” Darrell pawed eagerly at the
transparent door with myself as be spoke. “We’ve come after you,
Kelsall—after you and Fenton—we saw you there in the great hall and saw
your guards bring you here—!”
“But the door!” Kelsall exclaimed. “You can
never get it open, Darrell. Only the leader of the guards that brought
me here is able to open the lock.”