a world of wonders into which Darrell and I were
penetrating in our sphere. But after a last glance I shot the sphere
down to the level beneath, to gaze along it also for some clue to our
friends’ whereabouts. A certain hopelessness had begun to fill me, a
hopelessness that I expressed to Darrell.
“This immense world city—these swarming
levels,” I said. “It seems hopeless, Darrell, to search for Kelsall and
Fenton in them.”
“It’s our one chance to find them,” he said,
his own brow wrinkled anxiously. “We may light upon them yet.”
“If we only knew where the center of
government—the center of activity—of this world was,” I said, “we’d
have a chance. If Kelsall and Fenton live they’d be near it. But as it
We were both silent, tense, almost despairing
as we sank down farther in the great well. Tremendous massed machines,
hurrying, busy flesh things, rushing spheres, the clang and hum and
hiss of sounds—these things stretched far away about us in that level
and in the next beneath it and the next.
Down and down into the great well we sank,
hanging beside each level and gazing across it in vain hopes for some
trace of our two friends. And as we sank we noted that in each level
light that filtered down through the transparent levels above was
Yet still there swarmed in each level the busy
hordes, the ceaselessly operating machines, while from level to level
in the well about us shot the rushing spheres. And from level to level,
up the narrow stairs that led from one to another, moved ceaseless
streams of great flesh monsters hastening upon incalculable errands.
Like a giant replica of some strange anthill
was this unutterably alien world hidden here at the heart of earth’s
colossal shell. As we sank downward in the great well we could make out
vast mechanisms and contrivances, some of which were quite incalculable
We saw what we learned later were giant atom
disintegrating mechanisms which were fed with rock and with broken and
worn metal scraps. These swiftly stripped from the atomic structure of
any mass of matter its electrons, separating them from the protons and
forcing them into special compression-chambers in which other forces
held them prisoned.
It was these compression chambers of prisoned
electrons, as we surmised, that were the source of much of this world’s
power, since when released in special projectors they formed electron
streams or yellow rays such as we were already familiar with, which
could be regulated in power.
They were used in a concentrated ray to blast
matter into annihilation or released in a broad invisible fan beam from
the rear of the spheres to drive them forward, as we had already
guessed during our observation of the creatures above.
Upon a lower level we saw two great chambers
or laboratories through whose transparent walls we could make out huge
retorts and strange chemical apparatus, vast and complex mixing and
separating mechanisms, tended by careful flesh creatures. The product
of those strange laboratories seemed to be a white pulpy substance that
for the moment puzzled us but that we then recognized as flesh, white
flesh like that of the creatures who were making it!
And in transparent walled chambers beyond we
could see their uses of that artificial flesh, those body tissues which
they created, could see them used to repair the bodies of their own
fellows, who were mangled now and again in some of the great machines.
For to these masters of the atom, the creation of complex flesh
compounds was a matter so simple as to be almost automatic I
I cannot remember now all the strange things
of this hidden world. But finally the last few levels lay beneath us,
the great well’s smooth floor a few hundred feet below, and we were
sinking with hope fading in us.
The lowest levels, we found, were in effect a
gigantic workshop in which the curved and flat sections of metal
manufactured above, were combined with a myriad other objects and
instruments brought from the upper levels by ceaseless chain lifts to
form countless flying spheres.
Darrell and I were all but deafened by the
terrific clangor of metal that came to our ears. As far as the eye
reached nothing was visible but row upon endless row of great spheres,
being assembled there by countless hordes of the busy flesh creatures.
“Almost ready!” I whispered, as we gazed out
through that terrific clangor of sound and ceaseless activity. “Almost
ready, Darrell—all these countless thousands of spheres!
HE NODDED. “It can only mean that they’re
almost ready to surge up to earth’s surface in their great attack. For
they’ve pierced their shaft up to the surface and now these numberless
spheres in which they can rush up are almost finished.”
Something of despair came upon us as we looked
upon those tremendous preparations. We knew they spelled doom for our
world. It was with that despair deepening in my heart that I sent our
sphere rising upward in the great well, since it was plain to Darrell
and myself that wherever our two friends might be it would not be in
these vast workshops of the lowest levels.
Abruptly, though, as we rose upward amid the
swarming spheres in the great well, there came something that for the
moment made us forget the despair that had gripped us. It was a sound,
a great high whistling sound of immense volume and intensity, that came
through all the swarming levels of this strange swarming world.
As it sounded a sudden hush seemed to fall
upon the activity all about us.
And as the great call ceased we became aware
that though the activities about us had begun again, though the
clanging of the great machines in the levels about us had not ceased, a
number of the swarming spheres about us and above and below us were
converging toward the sixtieth of this great world’s levels and were
disappearing into that level.
From all about, from all the other levels and
from far across this world’s topmost transparent surface above, spheres
were rushing in scores to answer that strange call, though save for
them the activities about us were unchanged.
Darrell and I exchanged quick and eager
glances as we saw the spheres disappearing in a great stream into the
sixtieth. With a last hope that the summons might have some connection
with our friends, we joined that stream of rushing spheres.
Between the transparent roof and floor of that
level, through a dusky feeble glow of light that beat down through the
levels above us, onward we sped with our fellow globes in answer to the
As we rushed on I was able to see that it was
by means of great pillars of transparent metal that the great levels
were held each above the other. All these levels, all this world, were
in effect but one vast gigantic workshop.
A workshop it was whose activity seemed never
to cease, the flesh things tending always their mighty humming and
clanking mechanisms, their only pauses being to take from the nearest
tube of the great pipe system their liquid food or to have injected
into them, by the creatures set aside for that purpose, the crimson
fatigue neutralizing fluid. A vast workshop, indeed, and one that I
knew was hammering out with each passing hour the doom of my own world.
But now the rushing stream of spheres about us
was slowing and as we slowed also Darrell and I, peering forward
through our window with eager excitement, saw that the spheres among
which we moved were shooting out into some vast and apparently open
space that lay before us. In another moment our own sphere, with those
directly above it, was flashing out into the area and then we saw in
that first glance that it was no open space but a vast hall.
VAST indeed was that hall, a tremendous oval
room more than two thousand feet in length, extending through a dozen
levels of this strange world. Beneath us stretched a great smooth
floor, far above a transparent roof. Immense as it was the hall was all
but filled with spheres like our own, hanging motionless in great
swarms, hundreds upon hundreds.
In each of the spheres about us were one or
more of the flesh creatures, summoned from across this inner world by
the strange call. And as Darrell and I gazed eagerly forth to find the
purpose of the gathering, we saw for the first time that at one of the
ends of the mighty oval room jutted forth a broad balcony, halfway
between floor and roof.
Upon this balcony were gathered a row of some
twelve great flesh creatures, seated and regarding the spheres that had
gathered here in answer to their summons. So far away were they from us
in the vast hall that they seemed almost tiny. And then suddenly a stir
of movement, of excitement perhaps, ran through all the massed spheres
as one of the twelve seated figures arose and stepped forth to the
For a moment he regarded the massed spheres
before him in silence with his single great staring eye and then he
began to speak, his whistling sounds coming out to us in the great hall
loud and clear, sent forth, no doubt, by some amplifying apparatus.
Slowly and deliberately he spoke to the massed
spheres in the great hall before him, to the flesh creatures inside
them—and though his speech sounds were of course utterly unintelligible
to Darrell and myself, there came to me a dim perception of the nature
of the gathering about me.
I realized that the twelve creatures on the
balcony must form the supreme ruling body of this hidden world, that
the flesh creatures in the hundreds of spheres about us that had
gathered here must be the officials or lesser heads of that world.
Hanging there, it was as though Darrell and
myself could all but understand the creature’s strange speech, could
understand that he was addressing the creatures about us concerning the
vast work being rushed to completion, the giant plan these things had
formulated to surge up upon our own earth.
A strange sense of unreality came to me as we
hung there, listening to whistling speech sounds. Our situation was so
grotesque, so nightmare like, that we seemed almost in the midst of
some strange dream.
We snapped back to realization of our
situation as the whistling voice of the great creature on the balcony
suddenly ceased. Whatever it was that he had said, whatever orders he
had given to the creatures in the spheres about us, we saw another stir
of movement run through their masses as he stopped.
He paused, then spoke again to them for a
brief moment, then turned to give a short order to someone behind him.
Instantly in answer to that order there emerged onto the broad balcony
from the door through the wall behind it a half score flesh creatures,
armed with the ray cubes and guarding some figure or figures that
walked forward among them.
They halted near the great balcony’s edge and
intense silence fell over all the great sphere crowded hall. And then
they stepped aside a little, disclosing two figures on whom they kept a
Those two figures were Kelsall and Fenton!