then came wild cheers again from Darrell and the rest of us as the
uprushing swarms of spheres recoiled from the death we were loosing
upon them! They drew back, swiftly massed their foremost globes into
another great column like the first ones that had been hurled against
us. Then the column was rushing up from their far flung masses of
waiting spheres once more. As it did so we heard another distant dull
tremendous roar from far beneath and as we glanced down we saw another
great section of matter breaking loose from the spinning and deserted
hidden world beneath!
“Hold steady!” Darrell shouted. “The flesh
things know it’s the end for all of them if they don’t get up the shaft
before their world bursts—they’re coming again!”
This time when the column came within ray
range of us, one of its foremost spheres veered to one side. As our
rays stabbed down and shattered the uprushing column, this single
sphere seized the instant to rush blindly up into the glare of light
and heat about us, whirling up the shaft past us.
Darrell sent a stab of yellow death up into
the shaft but before our rays could reach it the sphere bad shot up out
of sight above us.
“The hundred spheres at the shaft’s top!”
yelled Fenton suddenly. “It’s gone up to get those hundred spheres—to
bring them down upon us from above!”
Beneath us the last of the attacking spheres
had drawn down among the waiting masses, hanging there with them for a
moment as though waiting. Long minutes we waited. There was a pause, a
pause broken by a sudden swift forming of hundreds of countless spheres
beneath into another column, a column that came whirling up again
As it flashed up toward us there came a hoarse
cry from Kelsall, gazing upward. Glancing upward I made out, high in
the dim glow of the great shaft above us, little flashes of white
light—little beams of white light that were growing each instant
brighter—beams of light that came from a solid column of a hundred
spheres thundering down the shaft upon us.
It flashed no rays lest they stab past us and
destroy the column beneath but it bore down upon us in a solid mass
that meant to smash us by its terrific impact! An instant more meant
Then as that narrow column of spheres
thundered down the great shaft’s center upon us, as the other column
from beneath rushed up, I made a decision. I gripped the control wheels
in an iron grasp and sent our sphere rushing sidewise from the path of
the spheres above, sent it whirling straight toward the molten roaring
flood of the great shaft’s wall!
In an awful crash of metal upon metal the two
columns of spheres, thundering up and down toward each other, were
transformed into a single great mass of wreckage that spun in the great
shaft’s opening beneath us, that then was swirling into the great
shaft’s molten sides and vanishing in bursts of flame even as our own
sphere recoiled to the shaft’s center away from the searing molten
Our swift leap sidewise had saved us from the
downrushing hundred spheres from above. The next moment, as though
spurred at last to mad, utterly heedless action by the spectacle, the
thousands of spheres that hung beneath us there moved suddenly up
The black sphere of their rulers placed itself
now at their head. Purposefully, deliberately, they came upward in
their last great attack. As we awaited them, as my fingers gripped the
control wheels, a hoarse, wild cry came from Darrell.
“The ray control!” he cried. “It’s useless—the
sphere’s ray charges are exhausted!”
THE sphere’s ray charges exhausted! Our only
weapon gone! The white faces of Kelsall and Darrell and Fenton stared
into my own, whirled in an insane kaleidoscope about me.
Upward toward us, purposefully, grimly. the
far flung sphere masses came, were almost within ray range beneath us.
“The world beneath—breaking up!”
Breaking up! A colossal thunderous roar of
sound drowned in its stupendous roll even the roar of the fires about
us! We glimpsed the spinning, gleaming sphere of the hidden world
beneath, that had spun at earth’s heart since earth’s beginning,
expanding, swelling, then breaking into colossal masses of matter, that
went whirling outward in all directions toward the molten floods of the
earth’s encircling shell!
BENEATH us massed thousands of spheres hovered
as though stunned, stupefied, by the titanic cataclysm. Then as I saw
titanic masses of matter rushing toward us, as they were rushing toward
all the encircling molten shell of earth, I gripped the control wheels
and sent our sphere flashing like lightning up the great shaft!
And even as we leaped up we glimpsed the
colossal fragments of the burst hidden world striking the massed
spheres beneath, annihilating them and driving their wreckage toward
the molten encircling shell!
Upward like a darting ray of light our sphere
shot, up through the shaft at drunken speed. About us there came a
stupendous reeling shock—the shock that marked the death of a world. As
I clung to the controls I heard a long grinding roar about us. The
shaft’s walls seemed to march inward upon our upward flashing sphere as
beneath that terrific shock from within all earth swayed and quaked!
But as the shaft’s walls moved slowly toward
us, as we flashed crazily up through the roaring darkness between them,
I held open the speed control with the last of my strength. I heard as
though from an infinite distance about me the hoarse cries of Darrell
and Kelsall and Fenton over the grinding, closing roar about us.
And then abruptly, just as the great
earthglass buckled about us, we shot up into the open air! Above us
were the brilliant stars of heaven!
I hafted our uprushing sphere and we swayed
there, gazing downward. In the long triangular clearing the great
opening of the shaft, with a final dull great roar, was vanishing,
closing, even as earth quivered about it!
The way to that vast space inside earth, where
had spun the hidden world, was closed! Closed forever by the titanic
cataclysm in which that hidden world and all its spheres and all its
great flesh creature hordes had gone to death together!
IT WAS not until many minutes later that our
sphere came at last to earth’s surface. In those minutes we hung there,
gazing downward as though stunned toward the great sunken circle of
earth which alone remained in the clearing to mark the place of the
Then as I sent the sphere downward, as it came
to rest, its humming ceased. The door clanged open and we stepped
forth, Kelsall and Darrell and Fenton and myself, stumbling out onto
the surface of the long clearing to stand there, gazing slowly about us.
Far above us stretched the great curtain of
the brilliant tropical stars and in the white light that fell all about
us they seemed unchanged. The long triangular clearing, the two swift
flowing rivers on either side, the dark mass of the jungle stretching
far away about us, our tent and boat at the clearing’s edge—all seemed
the same as on the night, two days before, when we had waited for the
appearance of the fourth light shaft.
“Two days!” Darrell’s low exclamation beside
me echoed my own thoughts. “And what we’ve been through in them!”
Fenton nodded. “Two days and in them we’ve
penetrated to another world and have seen that world go to death.”
“It all was real?” I cried. “We did go down
the shaft—did find you two there in the hidden world?”
“It was real,” said Kelsall, slowly,
thoughtfully. “The horror that rose toward our world—the destiny that
halted that horror at the last. Real—yes.”
“And this sphere—real,” Darrell said. “And the
things that our world can learn from it, gain from it, when it knows at
last from what it escaped—”
He was silent and then we all were silent,
standing there in the dim starlight at the clearing’s center with
strange emotions clutching at our hearts. Standing there in a dark
little group, behind us the gleaming shape of the great sphere.
Standing there, unspeaking and unmoving, as
though unable yet to comprehend, to believe in the miracle which had
held back the doom that the creatures of the hidden world had prepared
for the world of men. Which had loosed instead upon the hidden world
itself and all its creatures a greater swifter doom.