Chapter VI

A World of Wonders!

IN THAT moment, as the hundreds of spheres drove up toward us, Darrell and I stared transfixed with horror. Long before we could turn, could win back up to the shaft’s opening, they would be upon us with their blasting yellow rays.

In an instant, it seemed, they were beneath us, whirling straight up, and then suddenly they had changed their formation a little, spreading out and swerving to one side. Before I could comprehend what had happened they were flashing up past us up toward the molten curving roof far overhead!

“The shaft!” Darrell was exclaiming. “They’ve gone to the shaft, another hundred spheres—but why?”

“I think I know,” I said. “It must be that this hundred spheres have gone up to relieve the hundred guarding the shaft’s mouththey have been guarding it now for more than a day.”

He nodded. “That must be it,” he said, “but for the moment it seemed all up with us.”

We turned our attention back toward the great strange world beneath, toward which we were still dropping in our humming sphere. I gradually decreased our speed until, when we shot down among the swarms of spheres that came and went above the transparent streets and structures of this world, we were moving at a moderate speed.

All about us the spheres were swarming and through their control section windows we could glimpse the great white flesh monsters inside at the controls. We took care to crouch as low as possible over the controls of our own great globe and, moving as we were, there seemed small possibility that any of the creatures in the flying spheres about us would recognize us as different from themselves.

As we shot among them Darrell and I surveyed with intense interest the features of the world beneath. The streets beneath us were swarming with masses of the great flesh monsters. Their great forms were hurrying to and fro with a speed far greater than that of their clumsy movements on earth’s surface. We realized that it was the lesser gravitational attraction of this smaller world that accounted for their clumsiness and greater weight upon earth’s surface.

Darrell was clutching my arm as we sped on across this strange teeming world. “What about Kelsall and Fenton?” he said. “How are we ever to find them here?”

“It seems impossible,” I admitted, “but we must try.”

He was viewing keenly the swarming scene beneath us as we shot on. “I think, Vance,” he said, “that if Kelsall and Fenton are still living, are being held here by these flesh-things, it would be on one of the lower levels if only for safety’s sake.”

“But we can’t explore the lower levels!” I pointed out. “Even here we may be discovered at any moment. To venture inside on foot would be suicide!”

“But there’s another way we can try,” Darrell said swiftly. “In the sphere we can get to those wells that sink down through the different levels—and perhaps get some clue to their whereabouts.”

I realized that Darrell’s plan was the only hope of finding our two friends. So I sent the sphere heading across the great transparent mass of structures and swarming streets, through the crowds of spheres that flashed to and fro above it, until there appeared ahead a great circular opening.

It was one of the great wells that we had seen from above, a shaft that sank down through the various transparent levels of this mighty world city. As we neared it we saw that into it and from it was pouring a ceaseless stream of spheres like our own. We were quickly among them, hanging over the great well’s depths. As I turned the control wheels our sphere began to sink downward.

 

A MOMENT more and we had sunk beneath the topmost level. Beside us stretched away the vast and swarming scene of the second level. A full hundred feet or more in height it was, from its floor to the transparent streets and structures of the topmost level, which formed its roof.

Down through it beat almost unabated the glowing light and heat that fell upon this world! In this second level though were no structures such as rose upon the first. Being completely under cover as it was, it formed in effect one gigantic room which stretched like the levels beneath and above it completely around this turning world!

It held a scene of strange activity that rivaled that of the top level. As we gazed far across it we all but forgot the object of our quest in the unparalleled interest of the scene. For about us was such a great melange of mighty mechanisms and busy flesh things, such a babel of clanking and humming of machines and whistling of strange speech-sounds, that almost were we stunned by it.

And as we bung there, gazing from our sphere in fascination while other spheres from above and beneath us in the great well sped into this level or sped out of it, we could make out dimly the purpose of some of the great mechanisms we saw before us, could half comprehend the true wonders on which our eyes rested.

Near us was one of the mightiest of the great mechanisms, a tremendous squat cylindrical affair constructed for the most part of transparent metal, for the purpose of impeding as little as possible the light and heat that fell to the lower levels.

A great chain lift contrivance rose just beside it, an endless chain upon each few feet of which were great shallow cups or scoops filled with broken rock, rising up through the levels beneath by means of round openings in their floors. These masses of broken rock were automatically dumped into the uppermost section of the great transparent cylinder.

There was played upon them from all sides a lambent green light of force that was conveyed to the cylinder by thick cable connections. Beneath this green force the masses of rock were disintegrated instantly into a fine dust. As such they swirled down into the second section of the cylinder.

This section was divided into several transparent compartments, in each of which played an unceasing yellow ray like the electron stream ray used by the flesh monsters to annihilate matter. As the fine rock dust entered these compartments it was annihilated instantly, was changed to a cloud of shining particles, rushing down into the third section of the cylinder, into similarly divided compartments, where another yellow ray played upon each.

Beneath this second yellow beam or force half glimpsed shining clouds of particles changed back swiftly into visible matter, different in each compartment. In one it became a fine gray powder, in another a milky white liquid, in still another a thin saffron fluid.

And these poured down in turn from the vivid compartments into the cylinder’s lowest section, where they mixed together instantly under the force of powerful vibrators to form a thick dark liquid. This was conveyed away by great pipelines of transparent metal to vast tanks visible in the distance.

This great mechanism, humming in unceasing operation, puzzled me for a moment. But then, as Darrell and I glimpsed small flexible tubes and nozzles projecting here and there from the pipelines, saw flesh creatures now and then seizing the tubes and inserting the ends in their mouth apertures, we remembered the same action on the part of the flesh things above.

This dark liquid was their food. We realized that the giant cylindrical mechanism before us was one of countless similar mechanisms we could glimpse that were making that food directly from the rock brought up from beneath!

 

ELECTRONS and protons were acted upon again in separate compartments by different yellow rays, were built up by those rays into the desired substances by causing each proton to join the desired number of electrons, thus forming any element desired.

With the desired elements formed thus in each of the compartments it was needed only to let them mix together in the fourth section of the cylinder to form into the complex compound that was their synthetic food substance. This much of the process I could fathom, as did Darrell, from what we could see before us, though we knew that in reality it must be much more complicated than that.

Far across this second level Darrell and I could see scores of great cylinder mechanisms like the one before us, each served by a chain lift that brought ceaseless supplies of rock up to it from beneath. Each swiftly converted these rock masses into the dark liquid that flowed away to the great reservoir tanks located here and there.

From the tanks it was piped away in all directions, carrying the dark synthetic food-liquid by force of gravity down through a great pipe system to all of this strange world-city’s lower levels, the whole countless hordes of the flesh creatures being able thus at any moment to obtain the necessary amount of food liquid from the nearest tube and nozzle.

Across all this second level extended the great cylinder machines and tanks, humming with activity and swarming with the flesh things who watched and regulated the operation of the vast machines. But there was no sign of our two friends.

So, with a last glance across the level, I sent the sphere downward again in the great well. Spheres were crowding thickly about us still, halting here and there as they reached the level they desired and speeding away inside it. But all seemed so intent upon their own courses that their occupants gave no attention to our own globe.

So, when we reached the third great level, a hundred feet farther down, we hung motionless again, gazing with eager eyes through it as we had through the one above in the hope of glimpsing some trace of our friends.

Here the glow of light was perceptibly weaker and here the great mechanisms ranged about were of a visibly different nature. For though they were cylindrical in shape and much like those food making mechanisms on the level above in appearance, it was not the dark food-liquid that these were busy in producing.

Instead the electrons and protons that they made of the rock masses fed into them were formed by successive treatments of the yellow force into white hot streams of molten metal, which cooled swiftly into great ingots. These were conveyed from beneath the great cylinders by moving belts or platforms of metal.

The great new formed ingots, in turn, were transferred to giant automatic presses, which in one motion changed them to great flat or curving plates of metal. What interested me most was the next step of the process, in which most of the plates and sections thus formed were carried along by their moving belts and between great tubes from which glowed a green force through which they slowly passed.

As they passed beneath the power of that green force we saw the great sections of metal becoming transparent before our eyes! It was apparent that the green force was one that in some way altered the molecular or crystalline structure of the metal, making it as transparent as glass itself without impairing the strength in any way.

And as we gazed thus with fascinated eyes at this mighty clanging workshop there came to me the answer to another thing that for some time had puzzled both Darrell and myself. We had, in all the vast swarming scenes that we had passed over and through so far on this strange world, seen none of the fleshcreatures sleeping or even resting.

Even the hundred spheres that had patrolled the shaft’s mouth on earth far above had been relieved, we guessed, because of the need to replenish the power of their mechanisms rather than to give their occupants a rest. And since there was no night, could be no night, in this hidden world, why was it that none of the creatures we saw seemed ever to sleep or rest?

We saw the answer to that question in a single creature, who seemed to be moving slowly among the masses of the other busy flesh creatures, stopping for a moment at each. As he came nearer to where our sphere hung we saw that he held in his grasp a transparent metal container of some thin bright crimson fluid.

With an apparatus very much like a long hypodermic needle he was injecting a swift shot of this fluid into each of the busy workers, a little below and to one side of the single great eye. For the moment the thing puzzled me but then I realized that this crimson fluid was one which neutralized in their bodies the toxins that caused the need of sleep.


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.