Chapter XII

Intervention of Fate

IN THAT tmoment it seemed to me that the whole rushing scene of wild action had been converted into a tableau. Another moment would see the yellow rays leaping forth upon us. The end—

But as we stared at the cubes there came a sudden tremendous heaving and rolling of the floor beneath us that made the five flesh creatures down the corridor stagger even as we! The shock made the section of roof or ceiling above the flesh creatures, which was already cracked, crack farther, break loose and whirl downward! It crashed full upon the five flesh creatures.

They disappeared beneath a great mass of transparent metal, four of them crushed to instant death, the other hurled backward as it struck him, knocking the ray cube from his grasp! From across all the hidden world’s levels, in which waited the countless spheres, rose a cry of alarm.

“Up to the sphere!” Kelsall cried wildly. “Up to the sphere and out of this world—its final hour is almost here now!”

Our leaps sent us whirling up smoothly through the dusk like swimmers rising to the surface. We caught the edge of the sphere’s open door, drew ourselves inside. I leaped to the sphere’s controls. Its mechanism was still humming slightly, with the power required to keep it aloft.

As Kelsall slammed the door I gripped the two control wheels and sent the sphere leaping forward and downward along the great avenue. But even as I did so Darrell cried out behind me. I spun the sphere half-around, glanced for an instant behind us, saw that a score of other spheres were rushing upon us!

My first wild impulse was to send our own sphere leaping forward in mad flight but I realized that the spheres behind us were not pursuing us but were of those rushing toward the great central hall in answer to the whistling summons that had sounded moments ago.

To flee before them would be to excite their instant suspicion—so, as they drew closer, I held the sphere steady with them. Kelsall and Fenton gazed tensely at the spheres behind us and Darrell was ready at the ray controls. All of us crouched down to avoid the gaze of any who might chance to survey us.

“They’re going toward the central hall,” I said to the others as we shot onward among them. “They’re taking us with them!”

“Keep with them then!” Kelsall exclaimed. “If we leave them now it will arouse their suspicions at once!”

Fenton cried, “The wells are shut to us by the massed spheres gathered around them, waiting to go! We’ll have to try to escape from the great hall itself!”

What Fenton said was true. About the wells that led upward through the hidden world’s levels were gathered countless ranks of motionless spheres, waiting the command that would send them upward. To force our way through them and up out of a well now would be to challenge instant discovery.

So, with dread growing in my heart, I kept our sphere racing onward with those about it toward the great hall. All about us stretched the massed ranks of our enemies. A tremendous silence seemed to reign over all this world as its last great hour approached.

Our rushing sphere and those about us neared their goal, the great high door that led from the fifty ninth level out over the balcony into the great central hall. One by one the spheres shot through and as our own followed I was aware of the twelve rulers gathered on the balcony, surveying the spheres.

 

AS UNOBTRUSIVELY as possible, I sent our sphere worming forward and upward slowly through the thronging spheres about us. From the opening of the sixth level around the hall, the last of those sum¬moned spheres rushed into the hall, taking their places among the masses around us. Hope was flickering stronger in me but sud¬denly it died.

The centermost of the twelve creatures on the balcony, the leader of the twelve rulers, stepped to the balcony’s edge. And as he did so all the spheres in the great hall abruptly ceased their restless movements and hung motionless, awaiting his words.

I halted instantly the upward movement of our own sphere with a groan on my lips. For I knew that with all other globes motionless in the great hall about us our own, striving to make its way upward to the opening, would be instantly noted and we as instantly discovered.

Meanwhile the flesh leader who had stepped to the balcony’s edge was surveying the assembled spheres before him as we had seen him do before. And we noted that beside the balcony hung a single sphere which was of black instead of the gleaming metal which formed all the rest. It waited there with door open. It was, we comprehended at once, the sphere in which the twelve rulers on the balcony would lead the others up through the shaft to earth’s surface!

The creature began speaking in his strange whistling tones. And as we listened it seemed to me, despite myself, that there was something of a grandeur of majesty of power that was none the less real though inhuman.

Awed despite ourselves we listened and as we listened Kelsall swiftly translated the words of the thing on the balcony.

“He says,” whispered Kelsall rapidly, “we flesh-creatures are on the eve of the most important event in our history. For numberless ages we have dwelt upon this world of ours, this world that lies at the heart of the great shell of earth. But now we face annihilation.

“All about us awaits the great fleet of spheres that holds all our races and in that fleet we are about to leave this inner world of ours forever, to burst out upon the outer surface of earth’s shell and take possession of it for ourselves.

“You have been told that that outer surface is peopled and you have seen the two prisoners of those peoples brought down here, prisoners even now being brought here for a last hearing of our demands. The peoples of earth’s surface have neither the science nor the weapons our older race has developed and they cannot stand before us.

“The word which we leaders give you now, give to all our spheres and hordes, is to strike out with all power to annihilate all alien peoples from the moment that we emerge onto earth’s surface.

“Not one of them must we leave living upon the face of earth! For it is only by wiping out entirely every vestige of life upon earth’s surface except ourselves that we ourselves can bring all earth’s surface to our will and can hold it for ourselves forever.”

The creature upon the balcony paused and as Kelsall finished his quick whispered translation I saw his face and those of Darrell and Fenton white and grim with horror.

A wave of wild excitement seemed to surge through all the occupants of the massed spheres about us. They swirled and tossed and from their occupants there came great whistling cries that merged into a single roar of strange voices. Fenton turned toward us, his face tense.

“You heard him say that the two prisoners were being brought to this hall!” he exclaimed. “That means we must escape from here now if at all!”

“We’ve got to chance it!” Darrell agreed. “They’ll learn in moments now that their prisoners have escaped!”

 

I GRIPPED the two control wheels, then looked upward. A great mass of spheres still lay between us and the roof opening high above. But in their occupants’ excitement those spheres were moving jerkily about, bumping to this side and that against each other. It was truly our last chance to get out of the great hall.

So, carefully and slowly, I sent our own sphere rising upward again, up through the swarming globes above us toward the great opening. With Darrell and Fenton and Kelsall as tense beside me as myself, I kept our globe slowly rising, bumping each moment against the spheres above and about us!

Up—up—the moments in which we rose saw hope rising stronger within us, for we knew that seconds more would bring us up to and through the opening.

Suddenly a wild whistling cry rang out from the great balcony. A great cry of alarm at which we turned to see. Upon the balcony by the twelve rulers reeled a single flesh creature that had staggered out through the door. We recognized him instantly, by his battered appearance, as the guard who had escaped the falling metal that had destroyed his fellows. He was crying something in his whistling voice, and as he did so there came another and greater cry from the ruler, and an uproar of wild cries and confusion seemed suddenly to break out inside the great hall.

Kelsall whirled toward us, his face white. “That guard!” he cried. “He, told them we escaped in a sphere—they’ll find us here in seconds, now!”

Even as Kelsall spoke the hanging spheres that had poised about us rushed in confused swarms about the great hall, their occupants peering into each other’s spheres and flashing their light beams, searching for us! Then, one just beside us flashed its beam through our window and a whistling cry of discovery went up as the beam caught and held us in our own globe! We were discovered!

“Up to the opening!” Darrell yelled beside me. “Smash up through them to the opening, Vance—they’ve found us!”

But even as he shouted. I whirled over the control-wheels and sent our sphere rushing at top speed upward! Crash crash—into the spheres above us we drove, flashing bullet-like up among them as they whirled in wild confusion! Beneath us, from the sphere that had discovered us, a quick ray of yellow death seared upward.

Before it could find its mark we were above it and the yellow ray struck two spheres beyond us, annihilating them instantly! Still we crashed upward among the swarming spheres until I saw that a flat solid mass of them had grouped themselves above us to bar our progress. Since to crash into such a mass squarely was to annihilate ourselves I sent our sphere laterally dodging like light among the swirling scores of spheres to our right!

The mighty hall was in such wild confusion that all things about us seemed a mad panorama of wildly whirling spheres as I drove our own globe sidewise. The massed spheres in the great hall were swarming furiously and aimlessly about like a great maddened swarm of aroused bees!

They dared not loose their rays upon us lest they annihilate their fellows as one my had already done. But no such consideration held us and as we shot sidewise to avoid that solid mass of spheres above us I heard Darrel’s yell of defiance when he gripped our ray-control!

I glimpsed our sphere’s rays driving out to right and left, above and beneath us, from all six ray openings, cutting dazzling yellow lanes of death and nothingness through the whirling spheres about us as we shot sidewise and upward!

That moment of rushing movement and battle seemed extended indefinitely. Though our sphere was leaping upward toward the opening like a bullet it seemed to me to be floating slowly upward.

I saw the twelve rulers on the balcony far at the great hall’s end, rushing into their own waiting sphere. Then, as we flashed upward through the swarms around and above us, I could hear all around us the sharp detonations of the striking rays that Darrell was loosing on all the globe ships within range.

Now the flesh creatures’ rays were stabbing from all sides toward us, regardless of effect. But before they could reach us we were beyond them, rushing madly up through the swarming spheres until the great circular opening loomed just above us!

Wild cries from Fenton and Kelsall warned me that a half score of spheres now hung within it, barring our path! Before we could use our own rays upon them their rays must find us.

I staked our lives on one last mad chance, jerked open the speed control to its utmost! The next instant we were hurtling straight toward the massed spheres. In another moment, like a meteor, we crashed squarely into them!


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.