Chapter XIV

Trapped

UP—UP—and 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 toward us!

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 the end.

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 floods!

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 toward us.

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 great shaft.

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.

 

THE END


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.