Chapter VIII

The Origin of the Hidden World

MY FIRST impulse was to send our sphere flashing across the hall toward them and with our own rays send their captors to annihilation. But Darrell’s hand was suddenly strong upon my wrist and though his eyes were as alight with excitement as my own he restrained my wild impulse.

“Not now, Vance!” he whispered tensely. “We’ve found them—but we can’t make a move now!”

“Found them—yes!” I said, my heart hammering. “But why have they been brought here—brought before these things?”

“We’ll soon see,” Darrell said. “Hold steady—and our chance to free them will come.”

So I waited with Darrell, gazing tensely toward the figures of our friends on the great balcony. Their guards held them face to face with the great flesh monster who had been speaking to us. And as he surveyed them for a moment with his great eye we saw them returning his gaze, Kelsall’s strong face drawn but steady, Fenton standing beside him with a hand upon his shoulder.

We saw them venture a glance around the great sphere filled hall and could see that their belts no longer held their pistols. Then, as Kelsall and Fenton faced the great flesh-monster, he began to speak to them in the whistling speech sounds of these things.

A moment only he spoke to them and to the amazement of Darrell and myself, when he had finished, Kelsall replied to him in the same whistling sounds or in a human voiced imitation of them! There was silence when he had finished.

Then the creature, suddenly threatening and baleful in aspect, spoke to them again in a long deliberate exhortation of some sort. His whistling sounds, unintelligible to us, were listened to intently by Kelsall and Fenton as well as by all the creatures in the spheres about us.

And when the great monster had finished our two friends replied to him instantly with a single whistling sound, a single phrase or word. And as they did so there rose from all the flesh things in the gathered spheres about us a sudden babel of whistling cries!

Darrell and I gazed across the hall tensely as the strange and sudden tumult arose, precipitated as it had been by whatever answer Kelsall and Fenton had made to the speech of the great creature before them. His whole attitude in that moment was as eloquent of anger as that of such an alien creature could be.

My hands tightened upon the controls. I looked for the thing to give an instant order for the death of our friends, so fierce and evident was the anger of all about us at whatever response they had made to hint Instead, though, the thing gave only a brief order to the half score guards and they stepped instantly forward.

Still holding our friends they marched them back through the great door in the wall from which they had come. And then, as Kelsall and Fenton disappeared with their guards, the standing monster on the balcony turned back to the gathered spheres and again spoke to them.

As we heard his whistling speech, Darrell and I were gripped with tense impatience for we wanted only to follow our friends and their guards, yet dared make no move toward the door behind the balcony until the creatures upon it were gone. Tensely we waited, knowing that with each moment the guards and our friends would be farther from us.

Then, with a final whistling order, the great creature on the balcony ceased speaking. The spheres that filled the hall began to out of it. Pretending to join them, I held our own sphere in the hall and Darrell and I saw the twelve flesh monsters on the balcony passing back from it through the great door in the wall behind it.

Then they were gone and soon the last of the great spheres had sped out of the mighty hall except our own. Instantly then I sent our own sphere driving across the huge room toward the balcony and the great door behind it.

Balcony and door were set in the great wall just above the sixtieth level. We reached them quickly and our big sphere proved small enough to pass easily through the portal. As we shot through it we found ourselves within the fifty ninth level, feebly and duskily lit by what light came down through the transparent levels above.

Before us stretched great rows of vast machines like those we had glimpsed from the well. Those about us were engaged in turning forth metal ingots which were conveyed automatically to the great presses that shaped them into plates.

 

SWIFTLY we gazed about us but we could see nothing of our friends amid the swarming activity of flesh creatures and machines of the guards. Then, as sharp despair seemed upon us once more, Darrell pointed away through great rows of the mechanisms and I made out the forms of the half score guards, still grouped about our two friends, marching with them between the two great rows of machines.

Instantly I sent our sphere humming after them, holding it until, at a low speed, we were following them at a distance of a hundred yards or so. As we shot after them, curving now and then around some larger mechanism, we evoked no attention whatever from the flesh creatures busy in countless numbers at the machines around us, since scores of other spheres like our own were darting to and fro within this level upon errands of their own.

We became aware that ahead the great mechanisms were coming to an end, their long rows giving place to a series of transparent walled rooms of metal constructed in rows or blocks. Down a broad avenue between two such long rows of transparent, walled rooms the guards were moving with our two friends and slowly our big sphere followed them.

Most of the rooms on either side of us were storerooms of various materials, apparently too valuable to be allowed to lie loosely about. Some of them held masses of shining ores strange to us, others intricate mechanisms whose purposes we could not even guess, still others stores of what seemed projectors of the yellow ray. In none, though, were any of the flesh creatures.

As we moved on behind the guards and our two friends we became aware that the clangor and hum of sound from the great machines behind was becoming fainter and fainter, that in these blocks of store rooms and avenues into which we were moving there seemed hardly any flesh creatures visible. Then as the guards around Kelsall and Fenton, far ahead of us, turned suddenly into an avenue leading to the left, they vanished from our view.

By the time that our own sphere had reached the turn and halted a little short of it we could see along this dusky branching corridor. The guards had halted Kelsall and Fenton for a moment at the door of a transparent walled room, were opening that door.

This branching corridor was too narrow for our big sphere to enter and as we hovered there we saw the guards thrust our two friends inside, then close the door sharply after them, tampering for a moment after with some device upon its surface. Then they turned from the door and two of the flesh-creatures having posted themselves before it, ray cubes in their grasp. The remaining eight came back toward the main avenue, toward ourselves.

At once I moved our sphere backward and sent it rising swiftly upward. The avenue, like the rooms on either side of it, extended clear to the roof of the fifty ninth level, a hundred feet above, and the eight guards, unconscious of our presence above them, passed beneath us toward the great oval hall.

 

A MOMENT more and they were lost to view. I brought the sphere down to the floor again, to where the narrower corridor branched from the avenue. Keeping well back out of sight of the two guards, Darrell and I looked about us to make certain that none of the flesh creatures were in this quiet section of store rooms.

“Now is our chance!” Darrell whispered. “If we can overpower those two guards and get Kelsall and Fenton out of that cell and into our sphere we’ll be able to make our way back up the shaft to earth’s surface!”

“We still have our pistols,” I said.

“Yes, but no noise if it can be helped, Vance,” he cautioned. “A shot is liable to bring a swarm of the creatures upon us.”

Having seen to the magazines of our automatics we turned toward the round door of our sphere, swung it quietly open. I took a quick step onto the great avenue’s translucent floor and found myself rocketing smoothly upward toward the roof!

Fear gripped my heart. I heard a hoarse whisper from Darrell below and then as he stepped out from the sphere he was falling smoothly upward with me. Our heads had bumped gently against the roof of the level and then we were falling as smoothly and gently downward, lighting like falling feathers upon the avenue’s floor!

Crouching far back in the avenue from the corridor of the two guards and our friends’ cell, we lay with hearts pounding, finding that each slight stir of our muscles caused us to float up for a yard or more from the floor.

Then abruptly light came to me. “The gravity, Darrell!” I whispered. “You remember how the flesh creatures could hardly move on our own world’s surface? It’s the same with us, only reversed!”

I saw comprehension in his eyes. Crouching in our sphere, holding to the controls and moving constantly to and fro, we had not noticed this. But immediately upon emerging from the sphere and using our muscles it had become apparent to us in this startling fashion.

After a few moments’ experimentation we found that by lying flat and crawling slowly forward as a swimmer might crawl upon a pool’s bottom we could progress forward at fair speed and in silence. We crept down the avenue toward the narrow corridor that branched to the left from it, in which were stationed the two guards outside the cell of our friends.

 

IN A moment we had reached the corridor. Through the dim dusk that reigned on this level we could make out vaguely the great white shapes, standing outside the cell door, ray cubes watchfully in their grasp. I turned to Darrell for a last word with him before we leaped upon the two guards. And as I turned there was a violent rocking and swaying of the floor beneath us.

The whole strange world seemed to rock and quake about us. There was a distant, thunderous booming detonation, an awful grinding roar that continued for minutes before dying away. As it did die away there came strange whistling cries from all about and above and beneath us, a babel of alarms.

We could make out hordes of the flesh-creatures, rushing toward some point in the distance. Darrell and I regarded each other with astonishment, then gave it up as the uproar of alarm in the levels about us died down somewhat. Whatever had caused that tremendous shock and quake, that had caused the alarm of the flesh creatures, we dared not lose time now in speculation.

Creeping again to the corridor, we saw that the two guards, shaken and astonished, were holding their stations, though discussing the thing in their high whistling voices.

We reversed our pistols and gathered ourselves. Then with all the power of our muscles we went flying through the air in a great leap toward them!

Buoyed up as we were by the infinitely smaller gravity of this hidden world, we were upon them in a single mighty leap! They heard our jump, turned swiftly toward us, their deadly ray cubes rising.

But before they could loose the brilliant yellow death within those cubes we hurtled down upon them and knocked the cubes from their grasp. At the same moment I felt my own pistol knocked free by the force of our own impact, and then, weaponless as the creatures before me, I was struggling wildly with one of them while Darrell grappled the other!

I felt the thick arms of the big flesh monster’s lower body grip me tightly, felt him bear me to the floor with his great weight. I struck out with all my strength at the features of the thing. As we rolled and swayed there in that flashing moment the single great staring eye, the strange apertures of the mouth, were directly beside my own face, within an inch of mine.

Those nightmare features so close to my own sickened me. I felt my strength fast waning. I had a glimpse of Darrell struggling wildly with the other monster beside me and then the grip of great arms was tightening in a spine crushing grasp!

I struck out again, again, again but my blows seemed to fall without effect upon the great flesh mass with which I struggled. I felt my strength melting from me in stabs of excruciating pain, felt my senses darkening beneath thrusts of pain.

Then as from a great distance I heard a dull report, a moment later another. At the second the grip about me abruptly loosened. I staggered up from my antagonist’s grasp to see him quivering in a last convulsion on the floor. The other was already dead! Over them, panting and disheveled, stood Darrell, his still smoking pistol in his hand.

We listened intently for a moment but heard no sound of alarm to indicate that our shot had been heard by the creatures in the levels above and beneath. Quickly Darrell and I raced farther down the corridor, were racing down toward the door through which we had seen our two friends thrust.

It was a tall door, made of the same transparent metal as the walls of the rooms about us. And there, pressed against its inner side, gazing with wide eyes up the corridor toward the scene of the battle we had just taken part in, were Kelsall and Fenton!

“Darrell—Vance!” Kelsall’s astounded voice came out to us through the little ventilation holes set in the door and walls of their transparent cell. “How did you two get down here?”

“Kelsall!” Darrell pawed eagerly at the transparent door with myself as be spoke. “We’ve come after you, Kelsall—after you and Fenton—we saw you there in the great hall and saw your guards bring you here—!”

“But the door!” Kelsall exclaimed. “You can never get it open, Darrell. Only the leader of the guards that brought me here is able to open the lock.”


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.