Chapter IX

A Single Hope!

BUT WE had discovered for ourselves that the great door was like none we had seen before. The great hinges to one side of it, the strange dial like arrangement of a score of studs upon its center, were the only things that indicated the presence of a door, since the transparent metal of the door apparently was entirely integral with the transparent metal of the wall in which it was set!

Kelsall explained swiftly. “It’s the mechanism controlled by those central studs that locks the door,” be said, “and it locks the door by making it part of the wall around it. It uses a molecular diffusion force to mix and intermingle the molecules of the door and wall at their edges, thus making of door and wall a single homogeneous substance.

“When those studs are pressed in a certain very complex combination, they reverse that force and the molecules of door and wall are sharply divided, making it possible to swing the door open. But without knowing that combination, without using it to reverse the force, you can no more swing open this door than you can swing open any section of this wall.

“You can’t use the guards’ ray cubes to cut through the wall. They’d annihilate the whole cell and ourselves inside it.”

“But how to get you out, Kelsall?” Darrell asked in despair. “We have a sphere here and in it we might get back up the shaft—to earth’s surface.”

“The only way is to wait until the other guards return,” Kelsall said. “Their leader alone can open and close this lock, and they will come back for Fenton and myself in a few hours. The leaders of these flesh creatures are holding a last meeting in their great hall and we are to be brought again before them, since we were given only until then to accede to their demands, death then being the penalty of refusal.

“Therefore they will take us out of here and back to the great hall. Then you and Vance and Fenton and myself must attempt to overpower them and get away in your sphere. It’s our one chance.”

Darrell nodded. “We’ll do it, Kelsall,” he said. “The first thing is to hide these two dead guards and our sphere.”

He and I, turning toward the two dead flesh creatures, grasped them and thrust them out of sight into one of the numerous store rooms farther along the corridor, hiding them behind a mass of mechanisms. We raced back then to our sphere and, entering it, I turned on its lifting power to send it humming up through the dusk of the great avenue toward its roof.

As it bumped against the ceiling, hanging there with the hardly audible hum of its mechanism just sufficing to keep the big sphere aloft there and out of sight, I stepped out and floated down to the avenue’s surface. Then to await the returning guards, and with the ray cubes of the two slain guards in our pockets, we turned back toward the door of the transparent cell that held Kelsall and Fenton, and hid outside in the corridor’s feeble dusk.

Kelsall was saying, “Fenton and I were astounded when we heard your combat in the corridor and saw you two fighting with the guards. How did you ever get down here?”

Darrell related what had happened since the kidnaping by the shaft. Kelsall and Fenton listened in astonishment to his tale of our wild journey down after them and when Darrell had finished Kelsall shook his head.

“I never imagined that you two would venture down here after us,” he said. “But you have done it and if we four can escape we can bring to our own earth a warning, at least, of this menace.”

“But warning of what?” I asked swiftly. “What are these strange flesh creatures, Kelsall, what are their plans? Why should they leave this hidden world? What were the four great light shafts that they sent up through earth’s shell? What was that great shock that made all this world reel a few minutes ago?

“We heard you and Fenton reply to the creatures in their own whistling speech there in the great hall. You must know the answer to some, at least, of these mysteries!”

 

KELSALL was silent for a moment, regarding me with a strange solemnity through the transparent door. When he spoke his voice was grave.

“I know the answers, Vance,” he said. “You saw us captured and thrust into one of their spheres. I saw you rising to come to our aid then but waved you back because I knew that you would be captured like ourselves or killed.

“We were thrust into one of the great spheres, closely guarded, and then our sphere and the score or more that were about it there on the ground rose and then sank into the shaft, leaving the hundred or more patrolling watchfully above and three to guard the mouth of the shaft on the ground about it.

“Down into that great shaft we dropped at terrific speed with the light beams of all the spheres flashing, whirling down at such terrific velocity that I knew within moments that we had dropped many miles beneath the surface. Then came the growing heat about us, and the glow showed us we were shooting down through that awful light and heat. Finally they moved a knob and the wall and the sphere became cooler.

“Between the great shaft’s molten walls and out at last into this vast space in the interior of earth we moved. Our spheres sank down toward this world and through the opening in the great halt’s roof.

“Our spheres poised at the edge of the great balcony, our guards leading us forth onto it. They kept close hold upon us and as we stepped out of the sphere we saw why. The smaller force of gravitation upon this world, less even than it seemed it should have been, made every one of our efforts to move send us floating upward.

“The great hall was quite empty but soon there came to survey us the twelve flesh-creatures who form what might be termed the highest executive committee of this strange civilization. The foremost spoke to us in their whistling speech but of course we did not understand.

“He turned then and gave an order to our guards, who led us away at once. We walked quite naturally when held down by them. They led us to this storeroom. Its lock made it suitable as a prison cell for us.

“Here, after a little time came three flesh-creatures, bearing a conical projector of some sort connected to masses of intricate apparatus. They bound us tightly with metal thongs, flat on the floor, unable to move a muscle. Then they turned this projector upon the upper portion of the back of my skull.

“I felt some invisible but powerful force pouring from that projector into my brain and then I felt comprehension of the whistling speech sounds in which our hosts conversed coming upon me!

“You know that the brain is the organ that stores and acquires knowledge, that each new thing we learn is registered by an infinitely subtle change in a portion of its structure.

“If we knew the exact change produced in the brain by learning a certain fact and could take someone ignorant of that fact and make that exact change in his brain, that person would at once know that fact perfectly without ever having heard of it. It would simply mean that the fact had been impressed upon his brain directly instead of indirectly through his visual or auditory nerves.

“It was this ability, one foreshadowed even in our own world by certain experiments of our psychologists, which the flesh creatures were using to give me an instant and perfect understanding of their whistling speech.

“When they turned off the force finally, when I arose, I understood their speech perfectly and could speak it to them in a crude fashion, my human vocal apparatus not being capable of making all of their whistling sounds. In Fenton too the same thing had been accomplished. Then the flesh creatures who had wrought that swift change in us, were conversing at once with us.

“They told us that within a few hours we should be taken back before the ruling twelve now that we could speak to and answer them. They would question us concerning all phases of life on the earth above—also what had brought us to the exact spot on earth’s surface where they had driven their great shaft upward.

“Fenton and I told them little. We did, though, in the guise of conversing with them openly, strive to gain information as to the mysteries of this strange world and its peoples and their plans. And they, seeming not to care if we learned, told us openly enough of the history and the purpose of their great flesh creature races.

 

IT WAS with amazement that we heard their history. For these flesh creatures existing on this spinning world were, we learned, older by far than any race on earth’s surface, and their world a world older than the great shell of earth that enclosed it!

“Unthinkable ages ago, they said, our sun moved through space, with no planets, a giant flaming single sun. Eons it moved alone until a time when there approached, out of the galaxy’s vast swarm of stars, another star, a sun heading through space in the general direction of our own. It passed our sun at a vast distance, yet one which was small compared to the usual distances between stars.

“As they passed, the tremendous gravitational attraction of the two suns raised upon each other great tides, colossal flaming tides of glowing gases. So immense were those tides that when the two suns finally receded from each other the tides they had raised did not recede but broke loose entirely in flaming masses from their giant suns! And as those vast flaming masses broke from our own sun they began to circle around it, held still within its group.

“In this tale of the flesh creature scientists, indeed, I recognized one of the theories of the birth of the planets put forward by our own scientists, by Chamberlin, Moulton, Jeans and Jeffreys. And, the flesh creatures said, those great flaming masses began to condense with time into planets, spinning about their sun.

“There were, thought, immense masses of flaming gases still free, still moving about the sun themselves, but planets had been formed. The planet that had formed where earth is now was much smaller, was in fact this very hidden world!

“However, as I have said, vast masses of loose flaming gases still moved through the solar system, condensing swiftly into meteoric materials. These great clouds of meteoric matter began to be caught and held by the new formed planets.

“Neptune caught only enough to form one moon which revolves about it, Uranus enough to form at least four moons. Saturn, toward which great masses of meteoric material chanced to be flying, gripped enough to form around itself the giant rings as well as a number of large moons and some smaller ones.

“Jupiter, too, gripped much of the material, forming four great moons and a number of smaller ones also. Between Jupiter and Mars a great belt of this meteoric material formed of itself, turning about the sun and existing there now. Mars, being out of the path of most of the great meteoric material masses, caught only its two little moons, hardly greater than meteors themselves.

“But this little world, that revolved where earth now lies, was in the path of great masses of the wandering matter and so quickly caught immense quantities. They formed about it much as similar masses had formed about Saturn, encircling it completely without touching it.

“But since this world was so much smaller than Saturn they encircled it on all sides as well as on one plane, encircled it as a giant shell instead of as a ring! They formed about it, indeed, a colossal globular shell, hiding it forever from the sun and from outer space. This giant spherical shell that has a thickness of 1,000 miles is our own earth.”


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.