Chapter XI

What Hope?

“THEN, at his order, Fenton and I were led out onto the balcony,” Kelsall continued. “We never dreamed, of course, that you two were hidden in one of the spheres and watching us. When the leader spoke to us it was to tell us that our world was doomed and that our only hope of life lay in the mercy of the flesh creatures.

“Within a score or more hours, he said, all the flesh things in their thousands of spheres would be rushing up to earth’s surface, to spread out over it and to loose upon man annihilation man could not resist.

“He said they desired to strike their first blows directly at the greatest cities of earth, to annihilate those cities and all in them with their first attack. It would save time for them, therefore if we two were to pilot their great attacking forces to those cities when they emerged upon earth.

“To that proposition we answered only with flat refusal. Then the great leader of the flesh things told us that death would be our lot if we continued in our refusal. He said the rulers and officials of the flesh things would assemble again in the great hall just before the invasion ten hours away.

“If we continued to refuse then, he said, instant death would be ours. To his words, though, both Fenton and I spoke only a single word of refusal. So we were brought back here into this cell.

“We heard and felt soon after another great quivering and shock of the world about us, knew as we heard the resulting alarm that another mass of this hidden world’s substance had been jerked from it.

“Then came the combat in the corridor outside and we saw you. So now you know what we have seen and learned in this hidden world.”

Darrell and I sat silent in the dusk of the corridor outside the transparent door as Kelsall’s voice ceased. I could see that Darrell’s face was as white and tense as my own. Then his voice came, sounding strange and thin to my ears.

“Is there any hope of halting this thing?” he said.

Kelsall slowly shook his head. “I think not. Even if we escape to earth’s surface the hordes of the flesh things in their spheres will be pouring up behind us.”

“But we could at least warn the peoples of earth of the impending attack before that attack falls upon them!” I exclaimed.

Kelsall nodded. “That is the one hope left us, Vance,” he said. “Yet even if we can carry that warning to, mankind I do not think, myself, that man can stand before the terrific attack that these creatures will loose upon earth. But as it’s our one chance left we’ll put our lives on it.”

 

HE WAS silent as were Darrell and Fenton and I there in the dusk of cell and corridor. We could glimpse vaguely, through the transparent walls and levels about us, the rushing movements of the flesh creatures about us.

It seemed to us that the great sphere fleet had been completed, since the clangor of metal upon metal from lowest levels was no longer reaching us. Apparently the flesh-things were engaged in loading into their spheres the equipment and weapons which they were to take with them.

We saw some of them busily charging the great ray containers, fitting weapons into the spheres. Others were swiftly disassembling into sections the great cylindrical machines, which manufactured their food liquid and the other mechanisms that turned out their metals, loading the disassembled mechanisms also into their countless spheres.

Once Darrell and I were forced to shrink back from our position in the corridor as a group of a score or more of flesh creatures raced along the avenue, swiftly selected the mechanisms they desired from the store-rooms beyond us and loaded those into other spheres. But they had passed beyond us and out of sight in a moment more, ignoring the greater part of the mechanisms and materials stored in the rooms about us. It was evident that they were taking with them to earth’s surface only essential mechanisms.

While all this climactic roar of activity and sound went on about us we four remained there, Darrell and I outside that impenetrable transparent door, Kelsall and Fenton within it. Dark and strange were our thoughts as hour after hour sped by thus, as moment by moment the last hour approached.

For we knew that only when the guards came to take Kelsall and Fenton before the last great meeting in the great hall could we hope to rescue them. And we knew, too, that that would be but minutes before the as¬sembled countless spheres and hordes of the flesh things poured upward, so that even did we win clear to earth’s surface by some miracle, the invading masses would be close behind us.

Once, though, there came a break in the ceaseless activity about us. That was when, without warning, another great shock shuddered through the world about us. The floor heaved beneath us as grinding sounds came to us from far away. The transparent metal roof bulged downward and cracked swiftly along one side, making us fear for the moment that a great section of it was coming down upon us. It held, though, and the great babel of cries of alarm died quickly.

“Another shock!” exclaimed Kelsall. “Less than a half dozen hours now to the finish.”

 

BUT the great quake that had just shaken their world seemed to have spurred the flesh things about us to even greater efforts. Working furiously to load the last of their equipment into the great spheres, they rushed madly to complete their preparations.

For they knew, even as Darrell had said, that within a few hours their spinning world must burst, that they must escape up the shaft to earth’s surface before that took place. Pressed by utter necessity, they tackled their last tasks like insane things.

With growing suspense we waited there as the last hours passed. One by one they dragged by until little more than a single hour remained. By that time the last preparations appeared to have been completed about us, for the wild clanging uproar of intense activity in all the hidden world’s levels dwindled, then ceased almost entirely.

We could see the flesh things hurrying toward the great spheres, which had been brought up from the lower levels and now filled all the levels about us apparently, though in the narrow corridors and avenues about us none were passing. We knew with growing tension that the time of our chance was approaching.

Then suddenly, through the strange silence that had fallen upon all the hidden world’s levels, sounded a mighty whistling note that shrilled through the air from far away!

“The signal!” Kelsall exclaimed. “They’re preparing to start upward. We’ll be brought before them for the last time!”

“Then at any moment the guards will be here for you!” said Darrell. “Vance, you know what we must do?”

I nodded quickly, for we had evolved a plan by which we hoped to get our friends free and destroy the guards who would come to release them. A quick glance into the main avenue assured me that our own sphere was still hanging out of sight against the ceiling of this level. Then Darrell and I waited, crouching against the door of our friends’ prison.

The silence that had fallen upon the levels of the world about us was almost complete, but we could see countless massed spheres filling with the last of the flesh things. Other spheres, of officials or the like, were rushing toward the great hall to which the whistling summons had called them. Then there came the sound of approaching steps, of a group of flesh creatures marching quickly down the avenue toward our corridor!

We leapt to the corridor’s edge and peered down the avenue. Approaching us were eight great flesh thing guards, armed with ray cubes. Darrel and I hastened back to the door of our friends’ cell and then with a great effort leapt upward. We shot up to the roof of the corridor, floating smoothly up toward it and hovering for a moment beneath it. There we reached swiftly toward the crack that had opened in the roof, hooked our fingers inside it.

Thus, hanging high in the dusk from the corridor’s ceiling, we awaited the coming of the guards. We could have hung by one finger, so small was our weight against the lesser gravitation of this strange world.

We saw the eight guards turn into the corridor beneath us. They did not give even a glance up toward us, but as they paused before the door of our two friends’ cell we heard whistling exclamations from them, exclamations as though of surprise.

Their leader was looking about him and he was evidently astonished to find that the two guards were nowhere to be seen. I feared that he was about to conduct a search for them, knew that such a search would disclose their bodies and thus frustrate our last chance. But apparently time was too pressing.

After another glance he reached toward the score of studs set at the transparent door’s center. One by one he pressed them, in complex combination, until there came a sudden low hum of force from some mechanism set behind the studs.

Straight cracks appeared in the solid transparent wall, cracks that outlined the door, and the leader reached forth and swung it easily men on its hinges, at the same time motioning Kelsall and Fenton to step outside. As they did so the eight guards stood before them, their ray cubes retained watchfully in their grasp.

Darrell and I grasped the ray cubes which we had taken from the guards we had slain. Quickly, with the little ray opening pointing downward, our thumbs pressed the buttons that released the rays.

As Kelsall and Fenton stepped out among the flesh creatures Darrell and I dropped smoothly downward toward the guards beneath! As we did so I uttered a quick, sharp cry.

Kelsall and Fenton had leaped toward the avenue and as the guards looked swiftly upward, Darrell and I pressed the button controls of our cubes and sent our yellow blasting rays stabbing down among them!

 

THERE was a sharp little detonation from beneath and two of the eight guards beneath us abruptly vanished, annihilated by the rays! As Darrell and I fell upon them from above Kelsall and Fenton leaped back upon them. In the next moment we four earth men and six great flesh creatures were grappling in the narrow corridor!

They dared not use their own ray cubes lest they annihilate their own fellows, and for the same reason Darrell and I had dropped our cubes as we leaped down onto them. We had, though, whipped our pistols from our belts and, using the heavy automatics again in club fashion, were dealing blows with all our force at the creatures before us.

In the first stunning moment of surprise the fury of our attack staggered them, sent them reeling back against the wall, one of them beaten to the floor.

Only the immensely increased power of our earth muscles on this smaller world enabled us even to battle the monsters. But as it was we stretched one of them dead upon the floor with our terrific blows and struggled toward our sphere.

I heard a hoarse exclamation from Kelsall, saw that two of the creatures had gripped him. Instantly I was at his side. Then, with a terrific effort, we flung them back down the corridor toward the open cell door!

We were on the point of making a swift leap up toward our sphere that hung at the avenue’s ceiling when a hoarse cry came from Darrell. We whirled to see him pointing back down the corridor with trembling finger. Our five antagonists had grasped the ray cubes from the floor and were raising them straight toward us!


Original publication: Science Wonder Quarterly, Fall 1929  Copyright © 1929 Stellar Publishing, Inc. Revised version originally published in Fantastic Story Quarterly, Spring 1950  Copyright © 1950 Better Publications, Inc. Electronic version Copyright © 2009 Haffner Press. All Rights Reserved.