Chapter XIII

The Doom of a World

THERE was an awful reeling shock that flung us all sidewise, a great grinding of metal on metal. Then, as I staggered up again, I saw that our sphere was through, was rising from the hidden world’s surface into the glowing light of the vast molten shell about it!

Chance had led us between two of the spheres and instead of annihilating ourselves our sphere’s curving metal sides had forced them apart, allowing us to drive up between them, up through the great opening!

“Straight up to the shaft!” Kelsall screamed above the rush of winds and the hum of our sphere. “Straight up to the shaft, Vance—they’re after us.”

Mighty masses of spheres were pouring up from the gleaming surface of the spinning hidden world, were pouring up through the great opening through which we had smashed. Out of all the great wells that yawned here and there upon the surface of the world beneath us! It was the gigantic invasion of the flesh things, surging up toward earth’s surface at last!

It was their great armada of conquest and in the van of the swiftly rising spheres leaped the great single black sphere of the rulers. Behind it swarmed the swiftest of the others in pursuit. Then came the countless masses of their globes, pouring up still from the hidden world.

“They’re overtaking us!” Kelsall exclaimed as he gazed tensely upon the rushing spheres beneath us.

I had already seen it was so. For our own sphere, battered as it was by our wild crash upward through the swarming globes of the great hall, was not equal in speed to the unharmed spheres that were rushing up after us.

Up—up—my brain reeled as we drove upward at tremendous speed with, those countless pursuers even more swiftly after us.

The dark opening of the great shaft came into view above us. The glow of the molten fires in which the opening yawned beat fiercely upon us. I opened the refrigerating controls.

As we came closer to the great surging current of the slow flowing molten masses, I heard an increasing roar of thunderous sound, the awful roar of the flowing sea of molten rock. Then suddenly there came a cry, from Fenton and as I glanced back I saw yellow rays stabbing up toward us from the pursuing spheres close beneath us.

They fell short, though by little, for as yet the pursuing five hundred had not drawn within effective range. Swiftly, though, they were coming closer, were overtaking us, racing upward toward the roaring molten sea that loomed above us!

I felt the cold, grip of despair closing upon my heart as we rushed over the last few thousand feet toward the round opening. I knew that Kelsall was right, that escape was impossible.

The five hundred foremost spheres were close beneath us and though they had ceased to loose their rays for the moment, unable to perceive us against that awful glare from the fiery ocean above, I knew that they were overhauling us still. Once in the darkness of the shaft’s upper portions they would blast us from existence with their rays.

With the passing of our last hope something seemed to snap within me. I uttered a hoarse cry of defiance, gripped the control wheels in my hands and then, as our sphere shot up into the shaft’s great dark opening at last, I brought it to a halt, swung it around so that it hung in that opening motionless!

It hung just inside the shaft’s opening with the flaming molten sea flowing and thundering all about it, facing the spheres that were rushing still upward toward us from beneath!

“No escape for us!” I cried. “Then no escape it is—but we’ll not meet death fleeing up this shaft!”

“You’re going to—” began Kelsall, but my mad shout cut him short.

“We’re going to hold these spheres and flesh things out of this shaft while we live! We’re going to hold them. back from the earth’s surface!”

 

A SINGLE stunned silence followed and then the shouts of Darrell, Kelsall and Fenton joined my own. All about us was the thundering sea of molten rock, whose awful glare beat fiercely upon as, whose great heat was kept from us by the refrigerating controls?

The shaft was five hundred feer in diameter, so that the area to be guarded to prevent the spheres from rushing upward was not large. As I crouched there at our sphere’s controls, Kelsall and Fenton were tense at the window, Darrel hunched over the ray control. We saw that the five hundred foremost spheres beneath had glimpsed us halted in the shaft’s opening, had themselves halted beneath us, the black sphere of the rulers at their head.

We could see their occupants peering topward, knew that against the awful glare all abort us they could not gain more than a flashing glimpse of our own sphere. As we hung there amid the roaring molten fires of earth’s inner shell, there was a pause. Then suddenly, at some swift order, the five hundred spheres shifted to a long column and drove at full speed toward the shaft and our sphere inside it!

In an instant the spheres of the column’s head were looming great beneath us but then Darrell pressed swiftly upon the studs in his hands and down from our sphere there stabbed swift yellow shafts of deadly power. They clove down through the spheres of the uprushing column and with a great detonation shot scores of them into nothingness! As they did so, as the rays of the uprushing ships stabbed in answer toward ourselves, I sent our sphere leaping to one side of the shaft and from this new position our rays drove paths of instant annihilation down through their huddled, disorganized mass!

Before that awful fire from an enemy whom they could scarcely glimpse a third of their five hundred spheres were annihilated by our down leaping rays. They reeled back, shattered from the awful blow we had dealt them!

I heard the exultant cries of Kelsall and Fenton, saw that the black sphere of the flesh thing rulers had moved to one side, that in the spheres beneath was a great confusion. A moment more and those great far stretching masses of spheres halted beneath, holding formation thousands of feet beneath us in the molten sea in whose single opening we hung.

Then up from them rushed others to replace those we had destroyed. As these and the survivors of the first attack formed again into a column, they hung briefly out of range beneath us. Then at full speed they came leaping up toward us their yellow rays stabbing up even before they came within range. But again they were loosing their rays blindly, dazzled by the awful glare about us. The instant they were within ray range our own deadly beams were stabbing down again among them!

There came to us over the awful roar of the fires about us the detonations of our striking rays and we could see scores upon scores of the uprushing spheres flashing into nothingness. We could see their column reeling aside, scores of ships driving in that wild moment into the molten seas about our shaft and perishing there instantly in bursts of flame.

“We’re holding them!” cried Darrell as the second shattered column reeled downward. “They can’t get at us here in the shaft!”

“And the world below—look!” shouted Kelsall. “Another great mass of matter is breaking from it!”

With another great grinding roar, a large section was gouged suddenly out of the gleaming levels of the secret world, was hurtling out to strike with giant concussion the molten encircling shell not far from our great shaft’s opening.

The doom of the hidden world was at hand within minutes. The sight seemed to act like a great spur of fear upon the massed spheres beneath that held a the flesh things. At some unseen order from the rulers’ black sphere, hanging to one side, scores, hundreds, formed swiftly into another mighty column and again rushed with suicidal fury toward the opening in which we hung!

As they came up within ray range of us again with their few foremost spheres’ rays flashing upward, our own rays shot again among them, stabbing down through the long solid mass, cutting instant and mighty lanes of annihilation. Still, though heedless of the death before them, the remaining spheres rushed up, hoping to catch us with one of their wildly whirling rays.

But as they came within range of us our deadly beams were annihilating them, our sphere leaping from side to side in the shaft, to avoid their own. Then with a scant score left of the hundreds of spheres of the third column, the survivors were reeling downward.

 

FOR a third time our sphere had driven back their attack, had sent their shattered column reeling back down from the shaft they sought to enter. As we hung there amid the thundering fires Kelsall and Fenton and Darrell and I were shouting like mad things, were crying out in all the wild excitement of battle that filled us!

Beneath us we could see the giant square masses of the thousands of spheres hanging there still, out of range beneath the molten sea that hung above them. We could see restless and panicky movement among them as their third attack was all but annihilated. Far to the right and left beneath us extended their masses.

We gazed downward tensely and saw masses of spheres rushing to right and left away from out opening, a movement that for the moment puzzled us, We saw that there was to be no swift succeeding attack, though the creatures beneath knew as well as we that scant minutes remained before the final cataclysm of the spinning world beneath!

We hung tensely there, our sphere so hot that its walls and controls seared our hands from either side just beneath the molten fires, just out of their zone of intenser heat, a double mass of spheres, driving beneath the opening in which we hung and letting their yellow beams of death drive through the great glare toward us!

“The spheres!” cried Kelsall in that instant. “They’ve come toward us just beneath the molten roof—!”

As they shot toward us a wild storm of brilliant beams criss crossed the opening in which we hung but in that split second the control wheels spun beneath my hands and our sphere leaped upward before the deadly rays could reach us!

Then as the masses of spheres drove farther into the opening beneath us, our own sphere’s rays stabbed like light among them, leaping in brilliant destruction as they spun.

Two thirds of them winked into nothing¬ness beneath our leaping rays and in the next instant, as the remaining spheres drove wildly into the opening and swerved from our rays, they were engulfed by the roaring molten walls of living fire about us. But straight up from beneath and from either side still, scores upon scores of spheres were whirling madly toward the opening of the shaft in which we hung!

Over the roaring from all about us came the swift succeeding detonations of our brilliant rays as they swept in swift, dancing lanes of death through the masses of spheres that strove to break in upon us!

Hanging as we were a little up inside the great shaft’s opening, they could not loose their rays up upon us until they had burst up into it from either side or beneath. And as they did so, as their masses appeared beneath us, Darrell sent out terrific beams, lancing down in lightning like stabs, sweeping through them in swathes of death, mowing them from existence as they appeared.

Clinging to the sphere’s controls, I sent it dancing from side to side in the great shaft, venturing almost to its death in swift short rushes toward the flaming seas of death about us, leaping this way and that in the great shaft to escape the rays that the spheres loosed blindly up toward us!

It seemed in that moment impossible that we four in our single sphere could thus hold back the countless thousands beneath. Yet our rays stabbed downward still, sweeping the opening beneath us clean of the gleaming spheres as they rushed into it, while scores of others of those rushing spheres were whirling in that wild moment to dreadful death in the thundering fires around 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.