Chapter VII

Makers of Flesh!

IT WAS a world of wonders into which Darrell and I were penetrating in our sphere. But after a last glance I shot the sphere down to the level beneath, to gaze along it also for some clue to our friends’ whereabouts. A certain hopelessness had begun to fill me, a hopelessness that I expressed to Darrell.

“This immense world city—these swarming levels,” I said. “It seems hopeless, Darrell, to search for Kelsall and Fenton in them.”

“It’s our one chance to find them,” he said, his own brow wrinkled anxiously. “We may light upon them yet.”

“If we only knew where the center of government—the center of activity—of this world was,” I said, “we’d have a chance. If Kelsall and Fenton live they’d be near it. But as it is—”

We were both silent, tense, almost despairing as we sank down farther in the great well. Tremendous massed machines, hurrying, busy flesh things, rushing spheres, the clang and hum and hiss of sounds—these things stretched far away about us in that level and in the next beneath it and the next.

Down and down into the great well we sank, hanging beside each level and gazing across it in vain hopes for some trace of our two friends. And as we sank we noted that in each level light that filtered down through the transparent levels above was feebler, duskier.

Yet still there swarmed in each level the busy hordes, the ceaselessly operating machines, while from level to level in the well about us shot the rushing spheres. And from level to level, up the narrow stairs that led from one to another, moved ceaseless streams of great flesh monsters hastening upon incalculable errands.

Like a giant replica of some strange anthill was this unutterably alien world hidden here at the heart of earth’s colossal shell. As we sank downward in the great well we could make out vast mechanisms and contrivances, some of which were quite incalculable in purpose.

We saw what we learned later were giant atom disintegrating mechanisms which were fed with rock and with broken and worn metal scraps. These swiftly stripped from the atomic structure of any mass of matter its electrons, separating them from the protons and forcing them into special compression-chambers in which other forces held them prisoned.

It was these compression chambers of prisoned electrons, as we surmised, that were the source of much of this world’s power, since when released in special projectors they formed electron streams or yellow rays such as we were already familiar with, which could be regulated in power.

They were used in a concentrated ray to blast matter into annihilation or released in a broad invisible fan beam from the rear of the spheres to drive them forward, as we had already guessed during our observation of the creatures above.

Upon a lower level we saw two great chambers or laboratories through whose transparent walls we could make out huge retorts and strange chemical apparatus, vast and complex mixing and separating mechanisms, tended by careful flesh creatures. The product of those strange laboratories seemed to be a white pulpy substance that for the moment puzzled us but that we then recognized as flesh, white flesh like that of the creatures who were making it!

And in transparent walled chambers beyond we could see their uses of that artificial flesh, those body tissues which they created, could see them used to repair the bodies of their own fellows, who were mangled now and again in some of the great machines. For to these masters of the atom, the creation of complex flesh compounds was a matter so simple as to be almost automatic I

I cannot remember now all the strange things of this hidden world. But finally the last few levels lay beneath us, the great well’s smooth floor a few hundred feet below, and we were sinking with hope fading in us.

The lowest levels, we found, were in effect a gigantic workshop in which the curved and flat sections of metal manufactured above, were combined with a myriad other objects and instruments brought from the upper levels by ceaseless chain lifts to form countless flying spheres.

Darrell and I were all but deafened by the terrific clangor of metal that came to our ears. As far as the eye reached nothing was visible but row upon endless row of great spheres, being assembled there by countless hordes of the busy flesh creatures.

“Almost ready!” I whispered, as we gazed out through that terrific clangor of sound and ceaseless activity. “Almost ready, Darrell—all these countless thousands of spheres!

 

HE NODDED. “It can only mean that they’re almost ready to surge up to earth’s surface in their great attack. For they’ve pierced their shaft up to the surface and now these numberless spheres in which they can rush up are almost finished.”

Something of despair came upon us as we looked upon those tremendous preparations. We knew they spelled doom for our world. It was with that despair deepening in my heart that I sent our sphere rising upward in the great well, since it was plain to Darrell and myself that wherever our two friends might be it would not be in these vast workshops of the lowest levels.

Abruptly, though, as we rose upward amid the swarming spheres in the great well, there came something that for the moment made us forget the despair that had gripped us. It was a sound, a great high whistling sound of immense volume and intensity, that came through all the swarming levels of this strange swarming world.

As it sounded a sudden hush seemed to fall upon the activity all about us.

And as the great call ceased we became aware that though the activities about us had begun again, though the clanging of the great machines in the levels about us had not ceased, a number of the swarming spheres about us and above and below us were converging toward the sixtieth of this great world’s levels and were disappearing into that level.

From all about, from all the other levels and from far across this world’s topmost transparent surface above, spheres were rushing in scores to answer that strange call, though save for them the activities about us were unchanged.

Darrell and I exchanged quick and eager glances as we saw the spheres disappearing in a great stream into the sixtieth. With a last hope that the summons might have some connection with our friends, we joined that stream of rushing spheres.

Between the transparent roof and floor of that level, through a dusky feeble glow of light that beat down through the levels above us, onward we sped with our fellow globes in answer to the summons.

As we rushed on I was able to see that it was by means of great pillars of transparent metal that the great levels were held each above the other. All these levels, all this world, were in effect but one vast gigantic workshop.

A workshop it was whose activity seemed never to cease, the flesh things tending always their mighty humming and clanking mechanisms, their only pauses being to take from the nearest tube of the great pipe system their liquid food or to have injected into them, by the creatures set aside for that purpose, the crimson fatigue neutralizing fluid. A vast workshop, indeed, and one that I knew was hammering out with each passing hour the doom of my own world.

But now the rushing stream of spheres about us was slowing and as we slowed also Darrell and I, peering forward through our window with eager excitement, saw that the spheres among which we moved were shooting out into some vast and apparently open space that lay before us. In another moment our own sphere, with those directly above it, was flashing out into the area and then we saw in that first glance that it was no open space but a vast hall.

 

VAST indeed was that hall, a tremendous oval room more than two thousand feet in length, extending through a dozen levels of this strange world. Beneath us stretched a great smooth floor, far above a transparent roof. Immense as it was the hall was all but filled with spheres like our own, hanging motionless in great swarms, hundreds upon hundreds.

In each of the spheres about us were one or more of the flesh creatures, summoned from across this inner world by the strange call. And as Darrell and I gazed eagerly forth to find the purpose of the gathering, we saw for the first time that at one of the ends of the mighty oval room jutted forth a broad balcony, halfway between floor and roof.

Upon this balcony were gathered a row of some twelve great flesh creatures, seated and regarding the spheres that had gathered here in answer to their summons. So far away were they from us in the vast hall that they seemed almost tiny. And then suddenly a stir of movement, of excitement perhaps, ran through all the massed spheres as one of the twelve seated figures arose and stepped forth to the balcony’s edge.

For a moment he regarded the massed spheres before him in silence with his single great staring eye and then he began to speak, his whistling sounds coming out to us in the great hall loud and clear, sent forth, no doubt, by some amplifying apparatus.

Slowly and deliberately he spoke to the massed spheres in the great hall before him, to the flesh creatures inside them—and though his speech sounds were of course utterly unintelligible to Darrell and myself, there came to me a dim perception of the nature of the gathering about me.

I realized that the twelve creatures on the balcony must form the supreme ruling body of this hidden world, that the flesh creatures in the hundreds of spheres about us that had gathered here must be the officials or lesser heads of that world.

Hanging there, it was as though Darrell and myself could all but understand the creature’s strange speech, could understand that he was addressing the creatures about us concerning the vast work being rushed to completion, the giant plan these things had formulated to surge up upon our own earth.

A strange sense of unreality came to me as we hung there, listening to whistling speech sounds. Our situation was so grotesque, so nightmare like, that we seemed almost in the midst of some strange dream.

We snapped back to realization of our situation as the whistling voice of the great creature on the balcony suddenly ceased. Whatever it was that he had said, whatever orders he had given to the creatures in the spheres about us, we saw another stir of movement run through their masses as he stopped.

He paused, then spoke again to them for a brief moment, then turned to give a short order to someone behind him. Instantly in answer to that order there emerged onto the broad balcony from the door through the wall behind it a half score flesh creatures, armed with the ray cubes and guarding some figure or figures that walked forward among them.

They halted near the great balcony’s edge and intense silence fell over all the great sphere crowded hall. And then they stepped aside a little, disclosing two figures on whom they kept a tight hold.

Those two figures were Kelsall and Fenton!


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.