Chapter II

The Spheres from Below

A HALF-HOUR before midnight on May twenty first the fourth light shaft should appear and that’s just six hours from now!”

It was Dr. Kelsall who spoke and as he replaced in his pocket the watch at which he had been glancing we four turned for the moment from each other, gazing about us.

Around us there stretched away in all directions the vast green solitude of the Brazilian jungle, a tremendous solid mass of vegetation that seemed to lie like a great blanket over the earth.

The great close packed trees, the thick vines and lianas that bound them everywhere together, the impenetrable plant-life that choked the lower ways between them, swarming with brilliant hued birds and monkeys and strange insects, with larger animals stirring beneath—these extended out from us on all sides, lit now by the waning glory of the sunset to the west. The whole scene about us impressed one most with the illimitable fecundity of the life, plant and animal, with which it swarmed. It was a fecundity of life so dissociated from anything human that it was strangely depressing.

We four, however, were standing upon an island in that ocean of green thick life—a long triangular shaped clearing of brown earth and sand, which was bounded on two sides by the broad ochre floods of two swift-running rivers, the Malgre and the Tauraurua. These flowed together at the point of our long triangle clearing, continuing on their course as one to the great Amazon away to the south.

It was somewhere on or near this triangle of land between the two rivers, according to Kelsall’s calculations, that the fourth of the strange light shafts would appear if it appeared at all. So it was toward one side of the triangle, along the Malgre’s shore, that our brown tropical tents were pitched, our long river skiff moored beside them.

It was in that long sturdy craft and by virtue of its strong little motor that we had made our way up the Malgre to this point where the Tauraurua flowed into it. The swift airliner we had managed to catch had brought us from New York to Para in less than two days.

Then, procuring the stout river skiff that was large enough to hold us and all our equipment and apparatus, we had proceeded up the Amazon by river steamer to the point where the Malgre flowed into it. There, leaving the steamer, we had begun the most toilsome part of our journey, the slow fight upward against the Malgre’s current through jungles that stretched, to the north to and over the Guianas, jungles swarming with animal life, their only human inhabitants a few half glimpsed brown Indians.

It was the great wilderness of the Brazilian Guiana into which we were penetrating. So toilsome was our progress that had our goal been but little farther we could never have made it before the calculated time.

As it was it was only on the preceding day that we had reached this triangle of clear land. Until the present moment we had been busy in arranging apparatus, which had given us anxious moments in our rough journey upward in the skiff, for much of it was of a super sensitive and delicate nature.

There were black cased cameras, cinema and still types, some equipped with various ray filters and screens. Square fluoroscopes lay ready beside the delicate galvanometer circuits and electroscopes that had been set up by Fenton and myself.

If a fourth great light shaft appeared near us it would be strange if we four, with the comprehensive equipment which we had set up, would not be able to record the shaft’s appearance. We should be able to determine, even though it lasted but a minute or two like the others, its nature, whether electrical or radio active or simply light.

We were ready indeed for the coming of the fourth light shaft, yet now as we four stood there, brown garbed, white helmeted figures with heavy automatics swinging always at out hips, it was with oppressive doubt that I gazed about me. The whole vast wild scene about us filled me with misgivings.

Had we come after all on a wild goose chase? Had the appearance of those three light shafts been due only to some freak of natural forces, the regular progression in time and space of a mere coincidence? Had Kelsall been far afield in his belief that here where we stood another light shaft would appear within a few hours?

These were the questions that troubled me as we stood there together, watching in silence as the sunset westward flared and faded. At last, turning to the others, I expressed some of my doubts.

“The whole thing seems incredible, doesn’t it?” I asked. “Incredible for us to expect a fourth light shaft to appear at this exact spot.”

I indicated with a wave of my hand the thick walls of jungle that rose around our river bordered clearing and Darrell and Fenton gazed silently around at my gesture.

Kelsall, though, shook his head. “No, Vance,” he said. “If a fourth light shaft appears it will do so here and at a half hour before midnight. I’m certain of that—for the appearance of the other three have been superhumanly exact in time and place.”

“But there’s nothing unusual here,” I said. “We’ve explored this clearing and the region immediately around it and we’ve found nothing unusual—no sign of the presence of human life even.”

“There was nothing strange or unusual at Kismaya, or south of Moram Island, or before the Callarnia,” Kelsall reminded me. “Yet the light shafts appeared there. And though no other humans lie within leagues of us I think that there is nothing human behind the mystery of these light-shafts which we have come here to solve.”

“But our plan of action?” questioned Darrell. “In case the fourth light shaft does appear it will last only for seconds and we’ll need to be quick if we’re to gather any data on it in that time.”

 

KELSALL nodded. “Yes, Darrell, and for that reason we’ll take up separate stations when the time approaches. I want you and Vance here to take up a position at the north or broad end of this triangular clearing, just at the jungle’s edge.

“You will hold the two cameras, ready to turn them upon whatever spot the fourth shaft appears if it does appear. Vance, who like Fenton is a physicist and understands such work better than we, can use the fluoroscopes to determine whether the shaft is fluorescent in nature.

“Fenton and I, on the other hand, will station ourselves down at the clearing’s point on the open sand. There Fenton can watch his electroscope and galvanometer circuits while I use the spectrograph on the light shaft.

“In this way if the light shaft appears in this vicinity as it should, even though it lasts for but a minute, we should be able to determine accurately its nature and gain enough data to enable us later to discover its cause.”

“You have no theory yourself as to that cause, then, Kelsall?” asked Fenton curiously. “You’ve never ventured any to us but you must have some thought concerning it.”

Kelsall’s face grew grave at the question. “I have a theory,” he said slowly, “but not one I want to mention now. It is a theory which to my mind can alone account for the appearance of these strange shafts of right. Yet it is so startling, so insane, that even you could not take it seriously now.

“But if another light shaft appears here, if we cannot discover its nature, it may be that the thing that has suggested itself to me will be corroborated by our evidence. And if that is so—”

He did not finish but as Darrell and Fenton and I stood there beside him, regarding him, something of the strange suspense that held him was communicated to ourselves. So it was in silence that we stood there, while the last colors of the sunset faded westward, while the deep tropical twilight stole westward across the world like a veil drawn after the descending sun.

Swiftly then the darkness of night, soft and velvet, was upon us with the brilliant constellations of the equatorial sky burning out brightly overhead, with a strange tremor and stir of renewed and re awakened nocturnal life. Soon now would be upon us also the moment for which we had trailed to this spot. We began to follow Kelsall’s orders, to arrange ourselves and our masses of apparatus about the long clearing.

At the long triangular clearing’s northern end, its broad base in effect, Darrell and I quickly set up our cameras and fluoroscopes, just at the edge of the thick wall of the jungle. That base or side of our triangular clearing was perhaps three quarters of a mile in width and from it the clear triangle of ground stretched southward, bordered on either side by the two swift rivers, to the long sandy point where they converged.

It was upon this tip that Kelsall and Fenton, in turn, set up their own apparatus, their spectrographs and electrical apparatus, Darrell and I helping them and working without hamper in the clear thin starlight that lit all the clearing. This done, the four of us met again for the moment at the clearing’s tenter before taking up our positions.

Kelsall clasped the hands of Darrell and myself strongly. “Darrell—Vance,” he said, “I know that you will do your best on this. Be ready and if the light shaft does appear anywhere within sight of us get your instruments on it at once.”

Darrell nodded, raising his hands for the moment to the shoulders of Kelsall and Fenton. “We’ll be ready for it,” he said. “And if nothing happens—well, we’ll have done our best.”

With these words we turned and then the four of us had separated, Darrell and I striding toward the clearing’s northern jungle-wall, where our instruments lay ready, while Kelsall and Fenton started for the sandy tip that was to be their position.

We had retained our heavy pistols, the profusion of fierce wild life in the jungles about us making that a necessary precaution. We crouched down among our instruments. Our list preparations had been made and our wait for the appearance of the fourth light shaft began.

A glance at my watch showed me that there remained still more than two hours before the coming of the moment, a half-hour before midnight, which Kelsall had calculated as the time of the next shaft’s appearance. We had begun our watch thus early at his own suggestion, in case his calculations might have been a little inaccurate.

 

WE WAITED in silence. Far down at the clearing’s tip we could make out in the starlight, the vague shapes of Kelsall and Fenton, crouched likewise with their own equipment, and as silent as ourselves.

I found myself listening to all the myriad strange sounds that came from the thick jungle behind us, the distant coughing snorts or dull trampling sounds of large animals, the shrill sounds of countless insects, the occasional swashing of large lizards or reptiles in the rivers to east and west.

The sullen heat of the day, the burning heat of the equator, had declined only a little with the coming of darkness. And as the minutes dragged past with no other sight or sound save those of the profusion of jungle life about us, as the great tropical constellations sloped majestically across the sky, to my physical discomfort was added the return of my troubled doubts.

 

IT SEEMED to me incredible that we four should have found reason enough in the facts Kelsall had discovered to bring us to this wild spot in anticipation of witnessing a repetition of the three phenomena that had already occurred. It seemed insane for us to expect a fourth of the strange light shafts to appear at exactly this spot, at the exact time that he had calculated.

And as that time slowly approached, as my watch’s hands steadily approached the position that would mark the half hour before midnight—as no slightest unusual sight or sound came from anywhere about us—I felt my doubt becoming stronger and stronger.

With watch in palm, I watched the larger hand slowly moving toward the half hour position. Only minutes remained until our calculated moment would arrive. Slowly, minute by minute, the hand moved, was within a half dozen minutes of the half hour, yet from about us had come nothing new.

Now it was within four minutes, three, two, one. Tensely Darrell and I were watching it, The hand moved at last within a single minute of the awaited moment. Our hands were clenched unconsciously with suspense.

Then at last, with infinite slowness, the hand moved to the half hour position. Our nerves taut with suspense, our hands ready on the instruments before us, Darrell and I waited, gazing about us, gazing at—nothing! No single gleam of light had appeared in that moment in all the dark mass of the jungle about us and behind us, no light shaft or sign of one!

Gazing for the moment at each other, sick with disappointment, Darrell and I rose to our feet while down at the clearing’s tip we saw Kelsall and Fenton rising even as we did. We had failed. Our plan, by which we had thought to solve the mystery of these strange light shafts, had proved futile after all.

I took a step forward to go down to Kelsall and Fenton, disappointment wrenching at my heart. A single step I took and then, abruptly, I halted in my tracks. At the same moment a hoarse cry burst from Darrell behind me.

There before us, at the center of our great triangular clearing, half way between ourselves and our two friends, there stabbed suddenly upward a terrific beam of brilliant blue light whose dazzling intensity seemed blinding to my eyes!

Fifty feet upward from the clear ground of the clearing it towered, a tenth of that in diameter.

Even as I shrank back from its soundless appearance, even as I heard the cries of Darrell and Kelsall and Fenton, I saw that near the shaft’s top, set in some strange way, a circle or disk of pure white light, as brilliant as that about it! As it appeared I could see by the inset white spot of light that the great dazzling column was slowly turning as it towered there, turning like a solid revolving shaft!

In the single instant of the beam’s appearance I glimpsed these things, then leaped back to the black fluoroscopes which in the next moment I trained upon the shaft. Beside me I heard the rapid clicking of Darrell’s cameras, knew that even at that same instant Kelsall and Fenton would be working with their own instruments.

Because they were a modern recording development of the oldtime visual fluoroscopes I knew that if the light before us was of a fluorescent nature that fact would be recorded instantly upon their screens. So I swiftly exposed them, one after another, to the great towering shaft of blue brilliance that loomed before us.

Surely that scene must have been one of infinite strangeness—the tropic night all about us, the awful giant beam towering there so strange and terrible, the figures of us four to north and south of it, standing out like all things about us in its blue glare, and working like madmen with our instruments to record all available data.

Around and around the thing turned for more than a minute, the white light spot upon its blue brilliant column moving with each turn. But the minute seemed to us drawn into hours. Then abruptly, as strangely and swiftly as it had appeared, it seemed to flash downward, to vanish like an extinguished light.

We were left there in a darkness that seemed deeper than before!

“It came—as Kelsall thought—but in God’s name, man, what can it be?”

“Whatever it is we’ve got our data!” said Darrell. “And there come Kelsall and Fenton now—”

 

KELSALL and Fenton had risen and were striding excitedly toward us, calling to us in answer to our own shouts as Darrell and I strode to meet them. They were within a few hundred yards of us when a thing happened the mere memory of which sickens me to this day.

In one lightning instant the thing happened. There was a gigantic stabbing flash of yellow light that flared for a moment blindingly before us. At the same instant there broke from about us a titanic thunderous detonation that was like the crash of colliding planets!

Slammed down against the ground by that terrific detonation, we were aware in that instant of only the stunning light and sound loosed before us and then the thing was over, an almost thunderous silence following. But before us now, between our two groups, there yawned in the clearing’s surface the black mouth of a great shaft or well, five hundred feet in diameter at least and perfectly circular in shape!

As Darrell and I staggered to our feet at its edge and stared downward into it, even as Kelsall and Fenton were staring tremblingly down on its other side, we saw by the starlight which fell into it that the great shaft dropped down to depths inconceivable.

Mechanically, unthinkingly, we stared down into the great shaft, noting only that it was as perfectly cylindrical in shape as though bored by a giant drill, that its smooth sides, cut unerringly through rock and soil alike, fell vertically downward to a point where even the white starlight from above could not illumine the tenebrous depths! Then, as we stood there, I cried out inarticulately, pointed downward.

In the awful blackness of the great shaft’s depths a tiny point of white light had appeared, was growing larger! Even as we gazed toward it we glimpsed other light-points appearing beside and around it, other little white lights there far, inconceivably far, beneath, growing larger with each second as at immense speed they rushed up toward us!

Growing larger until in moments more, as we gazed, we could see that the white lights were flashing upward from dark round objects that were racing up the shaft toward us! And in the next moment we recognized them as great metal spheres!

Each a full twenty five feet in diameter, massed together in a swarm of a full hundred or more, they were rocketing up the shaft toward us! From each of them flashed a white beam of brilliant light by means of which they held their course straight upward through the great shaft!

Racing up toward us at speed unthinkable—and as they shot up with a humming sound, there came to my stunned ears a wild cry from Kelsall, standing there across the great shaft’s rim from ourselves.

“Spheres!” he was crying madly. “Sphere-ships from inside the earth! Darrell—Vance—I see it all now. Get back, for God’s sake, get back from the shaft!”


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.