* * * * *
In the silence of Alten's living room we could hear the hurried ticking of his little mantle clock, and from the street outside came the roar of a passing elevated train and the honk of a taxi. This was New York of 1935. But to me the crowding ghosts of the past were here. In fancy I saw the white pillars of the moonlit Atwood home. A garden with a dirt road beside it. Red-coated British soldiers passing.... And to the south the little city of New York extending northward from crooked Maiden Lane and the Bowling Green....
"Go on, Mistress Mary."
"I sat on a bench in the garden. And suddenly before me there was a white ghost. A shape. A wraith of something which a moment before had not been there. I sat too frightened to move. I could not call out. I tried to, but the sound would not come.
"The shape was like a mist, a little ball of cloud in the center of the garden lawn. Then in a second or two it was solid—a thing like a shining cage, with crisscrossing white bars. It was like a room; a metal cage like a room. I thought that the thing was a phantom or that I was asleep and dreaming. But it was real."
Alten interrupted. "How big was it?"
"As large as this room; perhaps larger. But it was square, and about twice as high as a man."
A cage, then, some twenty feet square and twelve feet high.
She went on: "The cage door opened. I think I was standing, then, and I tried to run but could not. The—the thing came from the door of the cage and walked toward me. It was about ten feet tall. It looked—oh, it looked like a man!"
* * * * *
She buried her face in her hands. Again the room was silent. Larry was seated, staring at her; all of us were breathless.
"Like a man?" Alten prompted gently.
"Yes; like a man." She raised her white face. This girl out of the past! Admiration for her swept me anew—she was bravely trying to smile.
"Like a man. A thing with legs, a body, a great round head and swaying arms. A jointed man of metal! You surely must know all about them."
"A Robot!" Larry muttered.
"You have them here, I suppose. Like that rumbling carriage without horses, this jointed iron man came walking toward me. And it spoke! A most horrible hollow voice—but it seemed almost human. And what it said I do not know, for I fainted. I remember falling as it came walking toward me, with stiff-jointed legs.
"When I came to my senses I was in the cage. Everything was humming and glowing. There was a glow outside the bars like a moonlit mist. The iron monster was sitting at a table, with peculiar things—mechanical things—"
"The controls of the cage-mechanisms," said Alten. "How long were you in the cage?"
"I don't know. Time seemed to stop. Everything was silent except the humming noises. They were everywhere. I guess I was only half conscious. The monster sat motionless. In front of him were big round clock faces with whirling hands. Oh, I suppose you don't find this strange; but to me—!"
* * * * *
"Could you see anything outside the cage?" Alten persisted. "No. Just a fog. But it was crawling and shifting. Yes!—I remember now—I could not see anything out there, but I had the thought, the feeling, that there were tremendous things to see! The monster spoke again and told me to be careful; that we were going to stop. Its iron hands pulled at levers. Then the humming grew fainter; died away; and I felt a shock.
"I thought I had fainted again. I could just remember being pulled through the cage door. The monster left me on the ground. It said, 'Lie there, for I will return very soon.'
"The cage vanished. I saw a great cliff of stone near me; it had yellow-lighted openings, high up in the air. And big stone fences hemmed me in. Then I realized I was in an open space between a lot of stone houses. One towered like a cliff, or the side of a pyramid—"
"The back yard of that house on Patton Place!" Larry exclaimed. He looked at me. "Has it any back yard, George?"
"How should I know?" I retorted. "Probably has."
"Go on," Alten was prompting.
"That is nearly all. I found a doorway leading to a dark room. I crawled through it toward a glow of light. I passed through another room. I thought I was in a nightmare, and that this was my home. I remembered that the cage had not moved. It had hardly lurched. Just trembled; vibrated.
"But this was not my home. The rooms were small and dark. Then I peered through a window on a strange stone street. And saw these strange-looking young men. And that is all—all I can tell you."
She had evidently held herself calm by a desperate effort. She broke down now, sobbing without restraint.
Tugh, the Cripple
The portals of this mystery had swung wide to receive us. The tumbling events which menaced all our world of 1935 were upon us now. A maelstrom. A torrent in the midst of which we were caught up like tiny bits of cork and whirled away.
But we thought we understood the mystery. We believed we were acting for the best. What we did was no doubt ill-considered; but the human mind is so far from omniscient! And this thing was so strange!
Alten said, "You have a right to be overwrought, Mistress Mary Atwood. But this thing is as strange to us as it is to you. I called that iron monster a Robot. But it does not belong to our age: if it does I have never seen one such as you describe. And traveling through Time—"
He smiled down at her. "That is not a commonplace everyday occurrence to us, I assure you. The difference is that in this world of ours we can understand—or at least explain—these things as being scientific. And so they have not the terror of the supernatural."
Mary was calmer now. She returned his smile. "I realize that; or at least I am trying to realize it."
What a level-headed girl was this! I touched her arm. "You are very wonderful—"
Alten brushed me away. "Let's try and reduce it to rationality. The cage was—is, I should say, since of course it still exists—that cage is a Time-traveling vehicle. It is traveling back and forth through Time, operated by a Robot. Call it that. A pseudo-human monster fashioned of metal in the guise of a man."
Even Alten had to force himself to speak calmly, as he gazed from one to the other of us. "It came, no doubt from some future age, where half-human mechanisms are common, and Time-traveling is known. That cage probably does not travel in Space, but only in Time. In the future—somewhere—the Space of that house on Patton Place may be the laboratory of a famous scientist. And in the past—in the year 1777—that same Space was the garden of Mistress Atwood's home. So much is obvious. But why—"
"Why," Larry burst out, "did that iron monster stop in 1777 and abduct this girl?"
"And why," I intercepted, "did it stop here in 1935?" I gazed at Mary. "And it told you it would return?"
* * * * *
Alten was pondering. "There must be some connection, of course.... Mistress Mary, had you never seen this cage before?"
"Nor anything like it? Was anything like that known to your Time?"
"No. Oh, I cannot truly say that. Some people believe in phantoms, omens and witchcraft. There was in Salem, in the Massachusetts Colony, not so many years ago—"
"I don't mean that. I mean Time-traveling."
"There were soothsayers and fortune-tellers, and necromancers with crystals to gaze into the future."
"We still have them," Alten smiled. "You see, we don't know much more than you do about this thing."
I said, "Did you have any enemy? Anyone who wished you harm?"
She thought a moment. "No—yes, there was one." She shuddered at the memory. "A man—a cripple—a horribly repulsive man of about one score and ten years. He lives down near the Battery." She paused.
"Tell us about him," Larry urged.
She nodded. "But what could he have to do with this? He is horribly deformed. Thin, bent legs, a body like a cask and a bulging forehead with goggling eyes. My Lord Howe's officers say he is very intelligent and very learned. Loyal to the King, too. There was a munitions plot in the Bermudas, and this cripple and Lord Howe were concerned in it. But Father likes the fellow and says that in reality he wishes our cause well. He is rich.
"But you don't want to hear all this. He—he made love to me, and I repulsed him. There was a scene with Father, and Father had our lackeys throw him out. That was a year ago. He cursed horribly. He vowed then that some day he—he would have me; and get revenge on Father. But he has kept away. I have not seen him for a twelvemonth."
* * * * *
We were silent. I chanced to glance at Alten, and a strange look was on his face.
He said abruptly, "What is this cripple's name, Mistress Mary?"
"Tugh. He is known to all the city as Tugh. Just that. I never heard any Christian name."
Alten rose sharply to his feet. "A cripple named Tugh?"
"Yes," she affirmed wonderingly. "Does it mean anything to you?"
Alten swung on me. "What is the number of that house on Patton Place? Did you happen to notice?"
I had, and wondering I told him.
"Just a minute," he said. "I want to use the phone."
He came back to us in a moment: his face was very solemn. "That house on Patton Place is owned by a man named Tugh! I just called a reporter friend; he remembers a certain case: he confirmed what I thought. Mistress Mary, did this Tugh in your Time ever consult doctors, trying to have his crippled body made whole?"
"Why, of course he did. I have heard that many times. But his crippled, deformed body cannot be cured."
Alten checked Larry and me when we would have broken in with astonished questions. He said:
"Don't ask me what it means; I don't know. But I think that this cripple—this Tugh—has lived both in 1777 and 1935, and is traveling between them in this Time-traveling cage. And perhaps he is the human master of that Robot."
Alten made a vehement gesture. "But we'd better not theorize; it's too fantastic. Here is the story of Tugh in our Time. He came to me some three years ago; in 1932, I think. He offered any price if I could cure his crippled body. All the New York medical fraternity knew him. He seemed sane, but obsessed with the idea that he must have a body like other men. Like Faust, who, as an old man, paid the price of his soul to become youthful, he wanted to have the beautiful body of a young man."
Alten was speaking vehemently. My thoughts ran ahead of his words; I could imagine with grewsome fancy so many things. A cripple, traveling to different ages seeking to be cured. Desiring a different body....
* * * * *
Alten was saying, "This fellow Tugh lived alone in that house on Patton Place. He was all you say of him, Mistress Mary. Hideously repulsive. A sinister personality. About thirty years old.
"And, in 1932, he got mixed up with a girl who had a somewhat dubious reputation herself. A dancer, a frequenter of night-clubs, as they used to be called. Her name was Doris Johns—something like that. She evidently thought she could get money out of Tugh. Whatever it was, there was a big uproar. The girl had him arrested, saying that he had assaulted her. The police had quite a time with the cripple."
Larry and I remembered a few of the details of it now, though neither of us had been in New York at the time.
Alten went on: "Tugh fought with the police. Went berserk. I imagine they handled him pretty roughly. In the Magistrate's Court he made another scene, and fought with the court attendants. With ungovernable rage he screamed vituperatives, and was carried kicking, biting and snarling from the court-room. He threatened some wild weird revenge upon all the city officials—even upon the city itself."
"Nice sort of chap," Larry commented.
But Alten did not smile. "The Magistrate could only hold him for contempt of Court. The girl had absolutely no evidence to support her accusation of assault. Tugh was finally dismissed. A week later he murdered the girl.
"The details are unimportant; but he did it. The police had him trapped in his house; had the house surrounded—this same one on Patton Place—but when they burst in to take him, he had inexplicably vanished. He was never heard from again."
Alten continued to regard us with grim, solemn face. "Never heard from—until to-night. And now we hear of him. How he vanished, with the police guarding every exit to that house—well, it's obvious, isn't it? He went into another Time-world. Back to 1777, doubtless."
Mary Atwood gave a little cry. "I had forgotten that I must warn you. Tugh told me once, before Father and I quarreled with him, that he had a mysterious power. He was a most wonderful man, he said. And there was a world in the future—he mentioned 1934 or 1935—which he hated. A great city whose people had wronged him; and he was going to bring death to them. Death to them all! I did not heed him. I thought he was demented, raving...."
* * * * *
Alten's little clock ticked with tumultuous heartbeat through another silence. The great city around us, even though this was two o'clock in the morning, throbbed with a myriad of blended sounds.
A warning! Was the girl from out of the past giving us a warning of coming disaster to this great city?
Alten was pacing the floor. "What are we to do—tell the authorities? Take Mistress Mary Atwood to Police Headquarters and inform them that she has come from the year 1777? And that, if we are not careful, there will be an attack upon New York?"
"No!" I burst out. I could fancy how we would be received at Police Headquarters if we did that! And our pictures in to-morrow's newspapers. Mary's picture, with a jibing headline ridiculing us.
"No," echoed Alten. "I have no intention of doing it. I'm not so foolish as that." He stopped before Mary. "What do you want to do? You're obviously an exceptionally intelligent, level-headed girl. Heaven knows you need to be."
"I—I want to get back home," she stammered.
A pang shot through me as she said it. A hundred and fifty years to separate us. A vast gulf. An impassible barrier.
"That mechanism said it would return!"
"Exactly," agreed Alten. An excitement was upon us all. "Exactly what I mean! Shall we chance it? Try it? There's nothing else I can think of to do. I have a revolver and two hunting rifles."
"Just what do you mean?" I demanded.
"I mean, we'll take my car and go to Tugh's house on Patton Place. Right now! And if that mechanical monster returns, we'll seize it!"
Alten, the usually calm, precise man of science, was tensely vehement. "Seize it! Why not? Three of us, armed, ought to be able to overcome a Robot! Then we'll seize the Time-traveling cage. Perhaps we can operate it. If not, with it in our possession we'll at least have something to show the authorities; there'll be no ridicule then!"
Our inescapable destiny was making us plunge so rashly into this mystery! With the excitement and the strange fantasy of it upon us, we thought we were acting for the best.
Within a quarter of an hour, armed and with a long overcoat and a scarf to hide Mary Atwood's beauty, we took Alten's car and drove to Patton Place.
The Fight With the Robot
Patrolman McGuire quite evidently had not passed through Patton Place since we left it; or at least he had not noticed the broken window. The house appeared as before, dark, silent, deserted, and the broken basement window yawned with its wide black opening.
"I'll leave the car around on the other street," Alten said as slowly we passed the house. "Quick—no one's in sight; you three get out here."
We crouched in the dim entryway and in a moment he joined us.
I clung to Mary Atwood's arm. "You're not afraid?" I asked.
"No. Yes; of course I am afraid. But I want to do what we planned. I want to go back to my own world, to my Father."
"Inside!" Alten whispered. "I'll go first. You two follow with her."
I can say now that we should not have taken her into that house. It is so easy to look back upon what one might have done!
We climbed through the window, into the dark front basement room. There was only silence, and our faintly padding footsteps on the carpeted floor. The furniture was shrouded with cotton covers standing like ghosts in the gloom. I clutched the loaded rifle which Alten had given me. Larry was similarly armed; and Alten carried a revolver.
"Which way, Mary?" I whispered. "You're sure it was outdoors?"
"Yes. This way, I think."
We passed through the connecting door. The back room seemed to be a dismantled kitchen.
"You stay with her here, a moment," Alten whispered to me. "Come on, Larry. Let's make sure no one—nothing—is down here."
I stood silent with Mary, while they prowled about the lower floor.
"It may have come and gone," I whispered.
"Yes." She was trembling against me.
* * * * *
It seemed to me an eternity while we stood there listening to the faint footfalls of Larry and Alten. Once they must have stood quiet; then the silence leaped and crowded us. It is horrible to listen to a pregnant silence which every moment might be split by some weird unearthly sound.
Larry and Alten returned. "Seems to be all clear," Alten whispered. "Let's go into the back yard."
The little yard was dim. The big apartment house against its rear wall loomed with a blank brick face, save that there were windows some eight stories up. Only a few windows overlooked this dim area with its high enclosing walls. The space was some forty feet square, and there was a faded grass plot in the center.
We crouched near the kitchen door, with Mary behind us in the room. She said she could recall the cage having stood near the center of the yard, with its door facing this way....
Nearly an hour passed. It seemed that the dawn must be near, but it was only around four o'clock. The same storm clouds hung overhead—a threatening storm which would not break. The heat was oppressing.
"It's come and gone," Larry whispered; "or it isn't coming. I guess that this—"
And then it came! We were just outside the doorway, crouching against the shadowed wall of the house. I had Mary close behind me, my rifle ready.
"There!" whispered Alten.
We all saw it—a faint luminous mist out near the center of the yard—a crawling, shifting ball of fog.
Alten and Larry, one on each side of me, shifted sidewise, away from me. Mary stood and cast off her dark overcoat. We men were in dark clothes, but she stood in gleaming white against the dark rectangle of doorway. It was as we had arranged. A moment only, she stood there; then she moved back, further behind me in the black kitchen.
And in that moment the cage had materialized. We were hoping its occupant had seen the girl, and not us. A breathless moment passed while we stared for the first time at this strange thing from the Unknown.... A formless, glowing mist, it quickly gathered itself into solidity. It seemed to shrink. It took form. From a wraith of a cage, in a second it was solid. And so silently, so swiftly, came this thing out of Time into what we call the Present! The dim yard a second ago had been empty.
* * * * *
The cage stood there, a thing of gleaming silver bars. It seemed to enclose a single room. From within its dim interior came a faint glow, which outlined something standing at the bars, peering out.
The doorway was facing us. There had been utter silence; but suddenly, as though to prove how solid was this apparition, we heard the clank of metal, and the door slid open.
I turned to make sure that Mary was hiding well behind me. The way back to the street, if need for escape arose, was open to her.
I turned again, to face the shining cage. In the doorway something stood peering out, a light behind it. It was a great jointed thing of dark metal some ten feet high. For a moment it stood motionless. I could not see its face clearly, though I knew there was a suggestion of human features, and two great round glowing spots of eyes.
It stepped forward—toward us. A jointed, stiff-legged step. Its arms were dangling loosely; I heard one of its mailed hands clank against its sides.
"Now!" Alten whispered.
I saw Alten's revolver leveling, and my own rifle went up.
"Aim at its face," I murmured.
We pulled our triggers together, and two spurts of flame spat before us. But the thing had stooped an instant before, and we missed. Then came Larry's shot. And then chaos.
* * * * *
I recall hearing the ping of Larry's bullet against the mailed body of the Robot. At that it crouched, and from it leaped a dull red-black beam of light. I heard Mary scream. She had not fled but was clinging to me. I cast her off.
"Run! Get back! Get away!" I cried.
Larry shouted, as we all stood bathed in the dull light from the Robot:
"Look out! It sees us!"
He fired again, into the light—and murmured, "Why—why—"
A great surprise and terror was in his tone. Beside me, with half-leveled revolver, Alten stood transfixed. And he too was muttering something.
All this happened in an instant. And there I was aware that I was trying to get my rifle up for firing again; but I could not. My arms stiffened. I tried to take a step, tried to move a foot, but could not. I was rooted there; held, as though by some giant magnet, to the ground!
This horrible dull-red light! It was cold—a frigid, paralyzing blast. The blood ran like cold water in my veins. My feet were heavy with the weight of my body pressing them down.
Then the Robot was moving; coming forward; holding the light upon us. I thought I heard its voice—and a horrible, hollow, rasping laugh.
My brain was chilling. I had confused thoughts; impressions, vague and dreamlike. As though in a dream I felt myself standing there with Mary clinging to me. Both of us were frozen inert upon our feet.
I tried to shout, but my tongue was too thick; my throat seemed swelling inside. I heard Alten's revolver clatter to the stone pavement of the yard. And saw him fall forward—out.
* * * * *
I felt that in another instant I too would fall. This damnable, chilling light! Then the beam turned partly away, and fell more fully upon Larry. With his youth and greater strength than Alten's or mine, he had resisted its first blast. His weapon had fallen; now he stooped and tried to seize it; but he lost his balance and staggered backward against the house wall.
And then the Robot was upon him. It sprang—this mechanism!—this machine in human form! And, with whatever pseudo-human intelligence actuated its giant metal body, it reached under Larry for his rifle! Its great mailed hand swept the ground, seized the rifle and flung it away. And as Larry twisted sidewise, the Robot's arm with a sweep caught him and rolled him across the yard. When he stopped, he lay motionless.
I heard myself thickly calling to Mary, and the light flashed again upon us. And then we fell forward. Clinging together, we fell....
I did not quite lose consciousness. It seemed that I was frozen, and drifting off half into a nightmare sleep. Great metal arms were gathering Mary and me from the ground. Lifting us; carrying us....
We were in the cage. I felt myself lying on the grid of a metal floor. I could vaguely see the crossed bars of the ceiling overhead, and the latticed walls around me....
* * * * *
Then the dull-red light was gone. The chill was gone. I was warming. The blessed warm blood again was coursing through my veins, reviving me, bringing back my strength.
I turned over, and found Mary lying beside me. I heard her softly murmur:
"George! George Rankin!"
The giant mechanism clanked the door closed, and came with stiff, stilted steps back into the center of the cage. I heard the hollow rumble of its voice, chuckling, as its hand pulled a switch.
At once the cage-room seemed to reel. It was not a physical movement, though, but more a reeling of my senses, a wild shock to all my being.
Then, after a nameless interval, I steadied. Around me was a humming, glowing intensity of tiny sounds and infinitely small, infinitely rapid vibrations. The whole room grew luminous. The Robot, seated now at a table, showed for a moment as thin as an apparition. All this room—Mary lying beside me, the mechanism, myself—all this was imponderable, intangible, unreal.
And outside the bars stretched a shining mist of movement. Blurred shifting shapes over a vast illimitable vista. Changing things; melting landscapes. Silent, tumbling, crowding events blurred by our movement as we swept past them.
We were traveling through Time!
The Girl from 2930
I must take up now the sequence of events as Larry saw them. I was separated from Larry during most of the strange incidents which befell us later; but from his subsequent account of what happened to him I am constructing several portions of this history, using my own words based upon Larry's description of the events in which I personally did not participate; I think that this method avoids complications in the narrative and makes more clear my own and Larry's simultaneous actions.
Larry recovered consciousness in the back yard of the house on Patton Place probably only a moment or two after Mary and I had been snatched away in the Time-traveling cage. He found himself bruised and battered, but apparently without injuries. He got to his feet, weak and shaken. His head was roaring.
He recalled what had happened to him, but it seemed like a dream. The back yard was then empty. He remembered vaguely that he had seen the mechanism carry Mary and me into the cage, and that the cage had vanished.
Larry knew that only a few moments had passed. The shots had aroused the neighborhood. As he stood now against the house wall, dizzily looking around, he was aware of calling voices from the nearby windows.
Then Larry stumbled over Alten, who was lying on his face near the kitchen doorway. Still alive, he groaned as Larry fell over him; but he was unconscious.
Forgetting all about his weapon, Larry's first thought was to rush out for help. He staggered through the dark kitchen into the front room, and through the corridor into the street.
Patton Place, as before, was deserted. The houses were dark; the alarm was all in the rear. There were no pedestrians, no vehicles, and no sign of a policeman. Dawn was just coming; as Larry turned eastward he saw, in a patch of clearing sky, stars paling with the coming daylight.
* * * * *
With uncertain steps, out in the middle of the street, Larry ran eastward through the middle of the street, hoping that at the next corner he might encounter someone, or find a telephone over which he might call the police.
But he had not gone more than five hundred feet when suddenly he stopped; stood there wavering, panting, staring with whirling senses. Near the middle of the street, with the faint dawn behind it, a ball of gathering mist had appeared directly in his path. It was a luminous, shining mist—and it was gathering into form!
In seconds a small, glowing cage of white luminous bars stood there in the street, where there had just been nothing! It was not the Time-traveling cage from the house yard he had just left. No—he knew it was not that one. This one was similar, but much smaller.
The shock of its appearance held Larry for a moment transfixed. It had so silently, so suddenly appeared in his path that Larry was now within a foot or two of its doorway.
The doorway slid open, and a man leaped out. Behind him, a girl peered from the doorway. Larry stood gaping, wholly confused. The cage had materialized so abruptly that the leaping man collided with him before either man could avoid the other. Larry gripped the man before him; struck out with his fists and shouted. The girl in the doorway called frantically:
"Harl-no noise! Harl-stop him!"
Then, suddenly the two of them were upon Larry and pulling him toward the doorway of the cage. Inside, he was jerked; he shouted wildly; but the girl slammed the door. Then in a soft, girlish voice, in English with a curiously indescribable accent and intonation, the girl said hastily:
"Hold him, Harl! Hold him! I'll start the traveler!"
The black garbed figure of a slim young man was gripping Larry as the girl pulled a switch and there was a shock, a reeling of Larry's senses, as the cage, motionless in Space, sped off into Time....
* * * * *
It seems needless to encumber this narrative with prolonged details of how Larry explained himself to his two captors. Or how they told him who they were; and from whence they had come; and why. To Larry it was a fantastic—and confusing at first—series of questions and answers. An hour? The words have no meaning. They were traveling through Time. Years were minutes—the words meaning nothing save how they impressed the vehicle's human occupants. To them all it was an interval of mutual distrust which was gradually changing into friendship. Larry found the two strangers singularly direct; singularly forceful in quiet, calm fashion; singularly keen of perception. They had not meant to capture him. The encounter had startled them, and Larry's shouts would have brought others upon the scene.
Almost at once they knew Larry was no enemy, and told him so. And in a moment Larry was pouring out all that had happened to him; and to Alten and Mary Atwood and me. This strange thing! But to Larry now, telling it to these strange new companions, it abruptly seemed not fantastic, but only sinister. The Robot, an enemy, had captured Mary Atwood and me, and whirled us off in the other—the larger—cage.
And in this smaller cage Larry was with friends—for he suddenly found their purpose the same as his! They were chasing this other Time-traveler, with its semi-human, mechanical operator!
The young man said, "You explain to him, Tina. I will watch."
He was a slim, pale fellow, handsome in a queer, tight-lipped, stern-faced fashion. His close-fitting black silk jacket had a white neck ruching and white cuffs; he wore a wide white-silk belt, snug black-silk knee-length trousers and black stockings.
And the girl was similarly dressed. Her black hair was braided and coiled upon her head, and ornaments dangled from her ears. Over her black blouse was a brocaded network jacket; her white belt, compressing her slim waist, dangled with tassels; and there were other tassels on the garters at the knees of her trousers.
She was a pale-faced, beautiful girl, with black brows arching in a thin line, with purple-black eyes like somber pools. She was no more than five feet tall, and slim and frail. But, like her companion, there was about her a queer aspect of calm, quiet power and force of personality—physical vitality merged with an intellect keenly sharp.
She sat with Larry on a little metal bench, listening, almost without interruption, to his explanation. And then, succinctly she gave her own. The young man, Harl, sat at his instruments, with his gaze searching for the other cage, five hundred feet away in Space, but in Time unknown.
And outside the shining bars Larry could vaguely see the blurred, shifting, melting vistas of New York City hastening through the changes Time had brought to it.
* * * * *
This young man, Harl, and this girl, Tina, lived in New York City in the Time-world of 2930 A. D. To Larry it was a thousand years in the future. Tina was the Princess of the American Nation. It was an hereditary title, non-political, added several hundred years previously as a picturesque symbol. A tradition; something to make less prosaic the political machine of Republican government. Tina was loved by her people, we afterward came to learn.
Harl was an aristocrat of the New York City of Tina's Time-world, a scientist. In the Government laboratories, under the same roof where Tina dwelt, Harl had worked with another, older scientist, and—so Tina told me—together they had discovered the secret of Time-traveling. They had built two cages, a large and a small, which could travel freely through Time.
The smaller vehicle—this one in which Larry now was speeding—was, in the Time-world of 2930, located in the garden of Tina's palace. The other, somewhat larger, they had built some five hundred feet distant, just beyond the palace walls, within a great Government laboratory.
Harl's fellow scientist—the leader in their endeavors, since he was much older and of wider experience—was not altogether trusted by Tina. He took the credit for the discovery of Time-traveling; yet, said Tina, it was Harl's genius which in reality had worked out the final problems.
And this older scientist was a cripple. A hideously repulsive fellow, named Tugh!
"Tugh!" exclaimed Larry.
"The same," said Tina in her crisp fashion. "Yes—undoubtedly the same. So you see why what you have told us was of such interest. Tugh is a Government leader in our world; and now we find he has lived in your Time, and in the Time of this Mary Atwood."
From his seat at the instrument table, Harl burst out: "So he murdered a girl of 1935, and has abducted another of 1777? You would not have me judge him, Tina—"
"No one," she said, "may judge without full facts. This man here—this Larry of 1935—tells us that only a mechanism is in the larger cage—which is what we thought, Harl. And this mechanism, without a doubt, is the treacherous Migul."
* * * * *
There was, in 2930, a vast world of machinery. The god of the machine had developed them to almost human intricacy. Almost all the work of the world, particularly in America, and most particularly in the mechanical center of New York City, was done by machinery. And the machinery itself was guided, handled, operated—even, in some instances, constructed—by other, more intricate machines. They were fashioned in pseudo-human form—thinking, logically acting, independently acting mechanisms: the Robots. All but human, they were—a new race. Inferior to humans, yet similar.
And in 2930 the machines, slaves of idle human masters, had been developed too highly! They were upon the verge of a revolt!
All this Tina briefly sketched now to Larry. And to Larry it seemed a very distant, very academic danger. Yet so soon all of us were plunged into the midst of it!
The revolt had not yet come, but it was feared. A great Robot named Migul seemed fomenting it. The revolt was smouldering; at any moment it would burst; and then the machines would rise to destroy the humans.
This was the situation when Harl and Tugh completed the Time-traveling vehicles in this world. They had been tested, but never used. Then Tugh had vanished; was gone now; and the larger of the two vehicles was also gone.
Both Harl and Tina had always distrusted Tugh. They thought him allied to the Robots. But they had no proof; and suavely he denied it, and helped always with the Government activities struggling to keep the mechanical slaves docile and at work.
* * * * *
Tugh and the larger vehicle had vanished, and so had Migul, the insubordinate, giant mechanism—at which, unknown to the Government officials, Tina and Harl had taken the other cage and started in pursuit. It was possible that Tugh was loyal; that Migul had abducted him and stolen the cage.
"Wait!" exclaimed Larry. "I'm trying to figure this out. It seems to hang together. It almost does, but not quite. When did Tugh vanish from your world?"
"To our consciousness," Tina answered, "about three hours ago. Perhaps a little longer than that."
"But look here," Larry protested: "according to my story and that of Mary Atwood, Tugh lived in 1935 and in 1777 for three years."
Confusing? But in a moment Larry understood it. Tugh could have taken the cage, gone to 1777 and to 1935, alternated between them for what was to him, and to those Time-worlds, three years—then have returned to 2930 on the same day of his departure. He would have lived these three years; grown that much older; but to the Time-world of 2930 neither he nor the cage would have been missed.
"That," said Tina, "is what doubtless he did. The cage is traveling again. But you, Larry, tell us only Migul is in it."
"I couldn't say that of my own knowledge," said Larry. "Mary Atwood said so. It held only the mechanism you call Migul. And now Migul has with him Mary and my friend George Rankin. We must reach them."
"We want that quite as much as you do," said Harl. "And to find Tugh. If he is a friend we must save him; if a traitor—punish him."
Larry began, "But can you get to the other cage?"
"Only if it stops," said Tina. "When it stops, I should say."
"Come here," said Harl. "I will show you."
* * * * *
Larry crossed the glowing room. He had forgotten its aspect—the ghostly unreality around him. He too—his body, like Harl's and Tina's—was of the same wraith-like substance.... Then, suddenly, Larry's viewpoint shifted. The room and its occupants were real and tangible. And outside the glowing bars—everything out there was the unreality.
"Here," said Harl. "I will show you. It is not visible yet."
Each of the cages was equipped with an intricate device, strange of name, which Larry and I have since termed a Time-telespectroscope. Larry saw it now as a small metal box, with tuning vibration dials, batteries, coils, a series of tiny prisms and an image-mirror—the whole surmounted by what appeared the barrel of a small telescope. Harl had it leveled and was gazing through it.
[Footnote 1: The workings of the Time-telespectroscope involve all the intricate postulates and mathematical formulae of Time-traveling itself. As a matter of practicality, however, the results obtained are simple of understanding. The etheric vibratory rate of the vehicles while traveling through Time was constantly changing. Through the telespectroscope one cage was visible to the other across the five hundred feet of intervening Space when they approached a simultaneous Time; when they, so to speak, were tuned in unison.
Thus, Harl explained, the other cage would show as a ghost, the faintest of wraiths, over a Time-distance of some five or ten years. And the closer in Time they approached it, the more solid it would appear.]
The enemy cage was not visible, now. But Harl and Tina had glimpsed it on several occasions. What vast realms Time opens within a single small segment of Space! The larger vehicle seemed speeding back and forth. A dash into the year 1777! as Larry learned from Mary Atwood.
And there had been several evidences of the cage halting in 1935. Larry's account explained two such pauses. But the others? Those others, which brought to the City of New York such amazing disaster? We did not learn of then until much later. But Alten lived through them, and presently I shall reconstruct them from his account.
The larger cage was difficult to trace in its sweep along the corridors of Time. Never once had Tina and Harl been able to stop simultaneously with it, for a year has so many separate days and hours. The nearest they came was the halt in the night of June 8-9, when they encountered Larry, and, startled, seized him and moved on again.
* * * * *
Harl continued to gaze through the eyepiece of the detecting instrument. But nothing showed, and the mirror-grid on the table was dark.
"But—which way are we going?" Larry stammered.
"Back," said Tina. "The retrograde.... Wait! Do not do that!"
Larry had turned toward where the bars, less luminous, showed a dark rectangle like a window. The desire swept him to gaze out at the shining, changing scene.
But Tina checked him. "Do not do that! Not yet! It is too great a shock in the retrograde. It was to me."
"But where are we?"
In answer she gestured toward a series of tiny dials on the table edge. There were at least two score of them, laid in a triple bank. Dials to record the passing minutes, hours, days; the years, the centuries! Larry stared at the small whirring pointers. Some were a blur of swift whirling movement—the hours and days. Tina showed Larry how to read them. The cage was passing through the year 1880. In a few moments of Larry's consciousness it was 1799. Then 1793. The infant American nation was here now. But with the cage retrograding, soon they would be in the Revolutionary War.
Tina said. "The other cage may go back to 1777, if Tugh meant ill to Mary Atwood, or wants revenge upon her father, at you said. We shall see."
They had reached 1790 when Harl gave a low ejaculation.
"You see it?" Tina murmured.
"Yes. Very faintly."
Larry bent tensely forward. "Will it show on the mirror?"
"Yes; presently. We are about ten years from it. If we get closer, the mirror will show it."
But the mirror held dark. No—now it was glowing a trifle. A vague luminosity.
Tina moved toward the instrument controls nearby. "Watch closely, Harl. I will slow us down."
* * * * *
It seemed to Larry that the humming with which everything around him was endowed, now began descending in pitch. And his head suddenly was unsteady. A singular, wild, queer feeling was within him. An unrest. A tugging torment of every tiny cell of his body.
Tina said. "Hold steady, Larry, for when we stop."
"Will it shock me?"
"Yes—at first. But the shock will not harm you: it is nearly all mental."
The mirror held an image now—the other cage. Larry saw, on the six-inch square mirror surface, a crawling, melting scene of movement. And in the midst of it, the image of the other cage, faint and spectral. In all the mirrored movement, only the apparition of the cage was still. And this marked it; made it visible.
Over an interval, while Larry stared, the ghostly image grew plainer. They were approaching its Time-factor!
"It is stopping," Harl murmured. Larry was aware that he had left the eyepiece and joined Tina at the controls.
"Tina, let us try to get it right this time."
"In 1777; but which month, would you say?"
"It has stopped! See?"
* * * * *
Larry heard them clicking switches, and setting the controls for a stop. Then he felt Tina gently push him.
"Sit here. Standing, you might fall."
He found himself on a bench. He could still see the mirror. The ghost of the other cage was now lined more plainly upon it.
"This month," said Tina, setting a switch. "Would not you say so? And this day."
"But the hour, Tina? The minute?"
The vast intricate corridors of Time!
"It would be in the night. Hasten, Harl, or we will pass! Try the night—around midnight. Even Migul has the mechanical intelligence to fear a daylight pausing."
The controls were set for the stop. Larry heard Tina murmuring, "Oh, I pray we may have judged with correctness!"
The vehicle was rapidly coming to a stop. Larry gripped the table, struggling to hold firm to his reeling senses. This soundless, grinding halt! His swaying gaze strayed from the mirror. Outside the glowing bars he could now discern the luminous greyness separating. Swift, soundless claps of light and dark, alternating. Daylight and darkness. They had been blended, but now they were separating. The passing, retrograding days—a dozen to the second of Larry's consciousness. Then fewer. Vivid daylight. Black night. Daylight again.
"Not too slowly, Harl; we will be seen!... Oh, it is gone!"
Larry saw the mirror go blank. The image on it had flared to great distinctness, faded, and was gone. Darkness was around Larry. Then daylight. Then darkness again.
"Gone!" echoed Harl's disappointed voice. "But it stopped here!... Shall we stop, Tina?"
"Yes! Leave the control settings as they are. Larry—be careful, now."
A dragging second of grey daylight. A plunge into night. It seemed to Larry that all the universe was soundlessly reeling. Out of the chaos, Tina was saying:
"We have stopped. Are you all right, Larry?"
"Yes," he stammered.
* * * * *
He stood up. The cage room, with its faint lights, benches and settles, instrument tables and banks of controls, was flooded with moonlight from outside the bars. Night, and the moon and stars out there.
Harl slid the door open. "Come, let us look."
The reeling chaos had fallen swiftly from Larry. With Tina's small black and white figure beside him, he stood at the threshold of the cage. A warm gentle night breeze fanned his face.
A moonlit landscape lay somnolent around the cage. Trees were nearby. The cage stood in a corner of a field by a low picket fence. Behind the trees, a ribbon of road stretched away toward a distant shining river. Down the road some five hundred feet, the white columns of a large square brick house gleamed in the moonlight. And behind the house was a garden and a group of barns and stables.
The three in the cage doorway stood whispering, planning. Then two of them stepped to the ground. They were Larry and Tina; Harl remained to guard the cage.
The two figures on the ground paused a moment and then moved cautiously along the inside line of the fence toward the home of Major Atwood. Strange anachronisms, these two prowling figures! A girl from the year 2930; a man from 1935!
And this was revolutionary New York, now. The little city lay well to the south. It was open country up here. The New York of 1935 had melted away and was gone....
This was a night in August of 1777.
The New York Massacre of 1935
Dr. Alten recovered consciousness in the back yard of the house on Patton Place just a few moments after Larry had encountered the smaller Time-traveling cage and been carried off by Harl and Tina. Previously to that, of course, the mysterious mechanism in the guise of a giant man had abducted Mary Atwood and me in the larger Time-cage.
Alten became aware that people were bending over him. The shots we had taken at the Robot had aroused the neighborhood. A policeman arrived.
The sleeping neighbors had heard the shots, but it seemed that none had seen the cage, or the metal man who had come from it. Alten said nothing. He was taken to the nearest police station where grudgingly, he told his story. He was laughed at; reprimanded for alcoholism. Evidently, according to the police sergeant, there had been a fight, and Alten had drawn the loser's end. The police confiscated the two rifles and the revolver and decided that no one but Alten had been hurt. But at best it was a queer affair. Alten had not been shot; he was just stiff with cold; he said a dull-red ray had fallen upon him and stiffened him with its frigid blast. Utter nonsense!
Dr. Alten was a man of standing. It was a reprehensible affair, but he was released upon his own recognizance. He was charged with breaking into the untenanted home of one Tugh; of illegally possessing firearms; of disturbing the peace—a variety of offenses all rational to the year 1935.
* * * * *
But Alten's case never reached even its hearing in the Magistrate's Court. He arrived home just after dawn, that June 9, still cold and stiff from the effects of the ray, and bruised and battered by the sweeping blow of Miguel's great iron arm. He recalled vaguely seeing Larry fall, and the iron monster bearing Mary Atwood and me away. What had happened to Larry, Alten could not guess, unless the Robot had returned, ignored him and taken his friend away.
During that day of June 9 Alten summoned several of his scientific friends, and to them he told fully what had happened to him. They listened with a keen understanding and a rational knowledge of the possibility that what he said was true; but credibility they could not give him.
The noon papers came out.
NOTED ALIENIST ATTACKED BY GHOST Felled by One of the Fantastic Monsters of His Brain
A jocular, jibing account. Then Alten gave it up. He had about decided to plead guilty in the Magistrate's Court to disorderly conduct and all the rest of it! That was preferable to being judged a liar, or insane.
* * * * *
And then, at about 9 P.M. on the evening of June 9, the first of the mechanical monsters came stalking from the house on Patton Place—the beginning of the revenge which Tugh had threatened when arrested. The policeman at the corner—one McGuire—turned in the first hysterical alarm. He rushed into a little candy and stationery store shouting that he had seen a piece of machinery running wild. His telephone call brought a squad of his comrades. The Robot at first did no damage.
McGuire later told how he saw it as it emerged from the entryway of the Tugh house. It came lurching out into the street—a giant thing of dull grey metal, with tubular, jointed legs; a body with a great bulging chest; a round head, eight or ten feet above the pavement; eyes that shot fire.
The policeman took to his heels. There was a commotion in Patton Place during those next few minutes. Pedestrians saw the thing standing in the middle of the street, staring stupidly around it. The head wobbled. Some said that the eyes shot fire; others, that it was not the eyes, but more like a torch in its mailed hand. The torch shot a small beam of light around the street—a beam which was dull-red.
The pedestrians fled. Their cries brought people to the nearby house windows. Women screamed. Presently bottles were thrown from the windows. One of these crashed against the iron shoulder of the monster. It turned its head: as though its neck were rubber, some said. And it gazed upward, with a human gesture as though it were not angry, but contemptuous.
But still, beyond a step or two in one direction or another, it merely stood and waved its torch. The little dull-red beam of light carried no more than twenty or thirty feet. The street in a few moments was clear of pedestrians; remained littered with glass from the broken bottles. A taxi came suddenly around the corner, and the driver, with an almost immediate tire puncture, saw the monster. He hauled up to the curb, left his cab and ran.
* * * * *
The Robot saw the taxicab, and stood gazing. It turned its torch-beam on it, and seemed surprised that the thing did not move. Then thinking evidently that this was a less cowardly enemy than the humans, it made a rush to it. The chauffeur had not turned off his engine when he fled, so the cab stood throbbing.
The Robot reached it; cuffed it with a huge mailed fist. The windshield broke; the windows were shattered; but the cab stood purring, planted upon its four wheels.
Strange encounter! They say that the Robot tried to talk to it. At last, exasperated, it stepped backward, gathered itself and pounced on it again. Stooping, it put one of its great arms down under the wheels, the other over the hood, and with prodigious strength heaved the cab into the air. It crashed on its side across the street, and in a moment was covered with flames.
It was about this time that Patrolman McGuire came back to the scene. He shot at the monster a few times; hit it, he was sure. But the Robot did not heed him.
The block was now in chaos. People stood at most of the windows, crowds gathered at the distant street corners, while the blazing taxicab lighted the block with a lurid glare. No one dared approach within a hundred feet or so of the monster. But when, after a time, it showed no disposition to attack, throngs at every distinct point of vantage tried to gather where they could see it. Those nearest reported back that its face was iron; that it had a nose, a wide, yawning mouth, and holes for eyes. There were certainly little lights in the eye-holes.
A small, fluffy white dog went dashing up to the monster and barked bravely at its heels. It leaped nimbly away when the Robot stooped to seize it. Then, from the Robot's chest, the dull-red torch beam leaped out and down. It caught the little dog, and clung to it for an instant. The dog stood transfixed; its bark turned to a yelp; then a gurgle. In a moment it fell on its side; then lay motionless with stiffened legs sticking out.
* * * * *
All this happened within five minutes. McGuire's riot squad arrived, discreetly ranged itself at the end of the block and fired. The Robot by then had retreated to the entryway of the Tugh house, where it stood peering as though with curiosity at all this commotion. There came a clanging from the distance: someone had turned in a fire alarm. Through the gathered crowds and vehicles the engines came tearing up.
Presently there was not one Robot, but three: a dozen! More than that, many reports said. But certain it is that within half an hour of the first alarm, the block in front of Tugh's home held many of the iron monsters. And there were many human bodies lying strewn there, by then. A few policemen had made a stand at the corner, to protect the crowd against one of the Robots. The thing had made an unexpected infuriated rush....
There was a panic in the next block, when a thousand people suddenly tried to run. A score of people were trampled under foot. Two or three of the Robots ran into that next block—ran impervious to the many shots which now were fired at them. From what was described as slots in the sides of their iron bodies they drew swords—long, dark, burnished blades. They ran, and at each fallen human body they made a single stroke of decapitation, or, more generally, cut the body in half.
The Robots did not attack the fire engines. Emboldened by this, firemen connected a hose and pumped a huge jet of water toward the Tugh house. The Robots then rushed it. One huge mechanism—some said it was twelve feet tall—ran heedlessly into the firemen's high-pressure stream, toppled backward from the force of the water and very strangely lay still. Killed? Rather, out of order: deranged: it was not human, to be killed. But it lay motionless, with the fire hose playing upon it. Then abruptly there was an explosion. The fallen Robot, with a deafening report and a puff of green flame, burst into flying metallic fragments like shrapnel. Nearby windows were broken from the violent explosion, and pieces of the flying metal were hurled a hundred feet or more. One huge chunk, evidently a plate of the thing's body, struck into the crowd two blocks away, and felled several people.
At this smashing of one of the mechanisms, its brother Robots went for the first time into aggressive action. A hundred or more were pouring now from the vacant house of the absent Tugh....
* * * * *
The alarm by ten o'clock had spread throughout the entire city. Police reserves were called out, and by midnight soldiers were being mobilized. Panics were starting everywhere. Millions of people crowded in on small Manhattan Island, in the heart of which was this strange enemy.
Panics.... Yet human nature is very strange. Thousands of people started to leave Manhattan, but there were other thousands during that first skirmish who did their best to try and get to the neighborhood of Patton Place to see what was going on. They added greatly to the confusion. Traffic soon was stalled everywhere. Traffic officers, confused, frightened by the news which was bubbled at them from every side, gave wrong orders; accidents began to occur. And then, out of the growing confusion, came tangles, until, like a dammed stream, all the city mid-section was paralyzed. Vehicles were abandoned everywhere.
Reports of what was happening on Patton Place grew more confused. The gathering nearby crowds impeded the police and firemen. The Robots, by ten o'clock, were using a single great beam of dull-red light. It was two or three feet broad. It came from a spluttering, hissing cylinder mounted on runners which the Robots dragged along the ground, and the beam was like that of a great red searchlight. It swung the length of Patton Place in both directions. It hissed against the houses; penetrated the open windows which now were all deserted; swept the front cornices of the roofs, where crowds of tenants and others were trying to hide. The red beam drove back the ones near the edge, except those who were stricken by its frigid blast and dropped like plummets into the street, where the Robots with flashing blades pounced upon them.
Frigid was the blast of this giant light-beam. The street, wet from the fire-hose, was soon frozen with ice—ice which increased under the blast of the beam, and melted in the warm air of the night when the ray turned away.
From every distant point in the city, awed crowds could see that great shaft when it occasionally shot upward, to stain the sky with blood.
* * * * *
Dr. Alten by midnight was with the city officials, telling them what he could of the origin of this calamity. They were a distracted group indeed! There were a thousand things to do, and frantically they were giving orders, struggling to cope with conditions so suddenly unprecedented. A great city, millions of people, plunged into conditions unfathomable. And every moment growing worse. One calamity bringing another, in the city, with its myriad diverse activities so interwoven. Around Alten the clattering, terrifying reports were surging. He sat there nearly all that night; and near dawn, an official plane carried him in a flight over the city.
The panics, by midnight, were causing the most deaths. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, were trying to leave the island. The tube trains, the subways, the elevateds were jammed. There were riots without number in them. Ferryboats and bridges were thronged to their capacity. Downtown Manhattan, fortunately comparatively empty, gave space to the crowds plunging down from the crowded foreign quarters bordering Greenwich Village. By dawn it was estimated that five thousand people had been trampled to death by the panics in various parts of the city, in the tubes beneath the rivers and on departing trains.
And another thousand or more had been killed by the Robots. How many of these monstrous metal men were now in evidence, no one could guess. A hundred—or a thousand. The Time-cage made many trips between that night of June 9 and 10, 1935, and a night in 2930. Always it gauged its return to this same night.
The Robots poured out into Patton Place. With running, stiff-legged steps, flashing swords, small light-beams darting before them, they spread about the city....
The Vengeance of Tugh
A myriad individual scenes of horror were enacted. Metal travesties of the human form ran along the city streets, overturning stalled vehicles, climbing into houses, roaming dark hallways, breaking into rooms.
There was a woman who afterward told that she crouched in a corner, clutching her child, when the door of her room was burst in. Her husband, who had kept them there thinking it was the safest thing to do, fought futilely with the great thing of iron. Its sword slashed his head from his body with a single stroke. The woman and the little child screamed, but the monster ignored them. They had a radio, tuned to a station in New Jersey which was broadcasting the events. The Robot seized the instrument as though in a frenzy of anger, tore it apart, then rushed from the room.
No one could give a connected picture of the events of that horrible night. It was a series of disjointed incidents out of which the imagination must construct the whole.
The panics were everywhere. The streets were stalled with traffic and running, shouting, fighting people. And the area around Greenwich Village brought reports of continued horror.
The Robots were of many different forms; some pseudo-human; others, great machines running amuck—things more monstrous, more horrible even, than those which mocked humanity. There was a great pot-bellied monster which forced its way somehow to a roof. It encountered a crouching woman and child in a corner of the parapet, seized them, one in each of its great iron hands, and whirled them out over the housetops.
* * * * *
By dawn it seemed that the Robots had mounted several projectors of the giant red beam on the roofs of Patton Place. They held a full square mile, now, around Tugh's house. The police and firemen had long since given up fighting them. They were needed elsewhere—the police to try and cope with the panics, and the firemen to fight the conflagrations which everywhere began springing up. Fires, the natural outcome of chaos; and fires, incendiary—made by criminals who took advantage of the disaster to fatten like ghouls upon the dead. They prowled the streets. They robbed and murdered at will.
The giant beams of the Robots carried a frigid blast for miles. By dawn of that June 10th, the south wind was carrying from the enemy area a perceptible wave of cold even as far as Westchester. Allen, flying over the city, saw the devastated area clearly. Ice in the streets—smashed vehicles—the gruesome litter of sword-slashed human bodies. And other human bodies, plucked apart; strewn....
Alten's plane flew at an altitude of some two thousand feet. In the growing daylight the dark prowling figures of the metal men were plainly seen. There were no humans left alive in the captured area. The plane dropped a bomb into Washington Square where a dozen or two of the Robots were gathered. It missed them. The plane's pilot had not realized that they were grouped around a projector; its red shaft sprang up, caught the plane and clung to it. Frigid blast! Even at that two thousand feet altitude, for a few seconds Alten and the others were stiffened by the cold. The motor missed; very nearly stopped. Then an intervening rooftop cut off the beam, and the plane escaped.
* * * * *
All this I have pictured from what Dr. Alten subsequently told me. He leaves my narrative now, since fate hereafter held him in the New York City of 1935. But he has described for me three horrible days, and three still more horrible nights. The whole world now was alarmed. Every nation offered its forces of air and land and sea to overcome these gruesome invaders. Warships steamed for New York harbor. Soldiers were entrained and brought to the city outskirts. Airplanes flew overhead. On Long Island, Staten Island, and in New Jersey, infantry, tanks and artillery were massed in readiness.
But they were all very nearly powerless to attack. Manhattan Island still was thronged with refugees. It was not possible for the millions to escape; and for the first day there were hundreds of thousands hiding in their homes. The city could not be shelled. The influx of troops was hampered by the outrush of civilians.
By the night of the tenth, nevertheless, ten thousand soldiers were surrounding the enemy area. It embraced now all the mid-section of the island. The soldiers rushed in. Machine-guns were set up.
But the Robots were difficult to find. With this direct attack they began fighting with an almost human caution. Their bodies were impervious to bullets, save perhaps in the orifices of the face which might or might not be vulnerable. But when attacked, they skulked in the houses, or crouched like cautious animals under the smashed vehicles. Then there were times when they would wade forward directly into machine-gun fire—unharmed—plunging on until the gunners fled and the Robots wreaked their fury upon the abandoned gun.
The only hand-to-hand conflicts took place on the afternoon of June 10th. A full thousand soldiers were killed—and possibly six or eight of the Robots. The troops were ordered away after that; they made lines across the island to the north and to the south, to keep the enemy from increasing its area. Over Greenwich Village now, the circling planes—at their highest altitude, to avoid the upflung crimson beams—dropped bombs. Hundreds of houses there were wrecked. Tugh's house could not be positively identified, though the attack was directed at it most particularly. Afterward, it was found by chance to have escaped.
* * * * *
The night of June 10th brought new horrors. The city lights failed. Against all the efforts of the troops and the artillery fire which now was shelling the Washington Square area, the giant mechanisms pushed north and south. By midnight, with their dull-red beams illumining the darkness of the canyon streets, they had reached the Battery, and spread northward beyond the northern limits of Central Park.
It is estimated that by then there were still a million people on Manhattan Island.
The night of the 11th, the Robots made their real attack. Those who saw it, from planes overhead, say that upon a roof near Washington Square a machine was mounted from which a red beam sprang. It was not of parallel rays, like the others; this one spread. And of such power it was, that it painted the leaden clouds of the threatening, overcast night. Every plane, at whatever high altitude, felt its frigid blast and winged hastily away to safety.
Spreading, dull-red beam! It flashed with a range of miles. Its light seemed to cling to the clouds, staining like blood; and to cling to the air itself with a dull lurid radiance.
It was a hot night, that June 11th, with a brewing thunderstorm. There had been occasional rumbles of thunder and lightning flashes. The temperature was perhaps 90 deg. F.
Then the temperature began falling. A million people were hiding in the great apartment houses and homes of the northern sections, or still struggling to escape over the littered bridges or by the paralyzed transportation systems—and that million people saw the crimson radiance and felt the falling temperature.
80 deg.. Then 70 deg.. Within half an hour it was at 30 deg.! In unheated houses, in midsummer, in the midst of panic, the people were swept by chilling cold. With no adequate clothing available they suffered greatly—and then abruptly they were freezing. Children wailing with the cold; then asleep in numbed, last slumber....
Zero weather in midsummer! And below zero! How cold it got, there is no one to say. The abandoned recording instrument in the Weather Bureau was found, at 2:16 A.M., the morning of June 12, 1935, to have touched minus 42 deg. F.
The gathering storm over the city burst with lightning and thunder claps through the blood-red radiance. And then snow began falling. A steady white downpour, a winter blizzard with the lightning flashing above it, and the thunder crashing.
With the lightning and thunder and snow, crazy winds sprang up. They whirled and tossed the thick white snowflakes; swept in blasts along the city streets. It piled the snow in great drifts against the houses; whirled and sucked it upward in white powdery geysers.
* * * * *
At 2:30 A.M. there came a change. The dull-red radiance which swept the city changed in color. Through the shades of the spectrum it swung up to violet. And no longer was it a blast of cold, but of heat! Of what inherent temperature the ray of that spreading beam may have been, no one can say. It caught the houses, and everything inflammable burst into flame. Conflagrations were everywhere—a thousand spots of yellow-red flames, like torches, with smoke rolling up from them to mingle with the violet glow overhead.
The blizzard was gone. The snow ceased. The storm clouds rolled away, blasted by the pendulum winds which lashed the city.
By 3 A.M. the city temperature was over 100 deg. F—the dry, blistering heat of a midsummer desert. The northern city streets were littered with the bodies of people who had rushed from their homes and fallen in the heat, the wild winds and the suffocating smoke outside.
And then, flung back by the abnormal winds, the storm clouds crashed together overhead. A terrible storm, born of outraged nature, vent itself on the city. The fires of the burning metropolis presently died under the torrent of falling water. Clouds of steam whirled and tossed and hissed close overhead, and there was a boiling hot rain.
By dawn the radiance of that strange spreading beam died away. The daylight showed a wrecked, dead city. Few humans indeed were left alive on Manhattan that dawn. The Robots and their apparatus had gone....
The vengeance of Tugh against the New York City of 1935 was accomplished.
(To be continued.)
By Tom Curry
[Sidenote: Professor Lambert deliberately ventures into a Vibrational Dimension to join his fiancee in its magnetic torture-fields.]
"Now, Professor Lambert, tell us what you have done with the body of your assistant Miss Madge Crawford. Her car is outside your door, has stood there since early yesterday morning. There are no footprints leading away from the house and you can't expect us to believe that an airplane picked her off the roof. It will make it a lot easier if you tell us where she is. Her parents are greatly worried about her. When they telephoned, you refused to talk to them, would not allow them to speak to Miss Crawford. They are alarmed as to her fate. While you are not the sort of man who would injure a young woman, still, things look bad for you. You had better explain fully."
John Lambert, a man of about thirty-six, tall, spare, with black hair which was slightly tinged with gray at the temples in spite of his youth, turned large eyes which were filled with agony upon his questioners.
Lambert was already internationally famous for his unique and astounding experiments in the realm of sound and rhythm. He had been endowed by one of the great electrical companies to do original work, and his laboratory, in which he lived, was situated in a large tract of isolated woodland some forty miles from New York City. It was necessary for the success of his work that as few disturbing noises as possible be made in the neighborhood. Many of his experiments with sound and etheric waves required absolute quiet and freedom from interrupting noises. The delicate nature of some of the machines he used would not tolerate so much as the footsteps of a man within a hundred yards, and a passing car would have disrupted them entirely.
* * * * *
Lambert was terribly nervous; he trembled under the gaze of the stern detective, come with several colleagues from a neighboring town at the call of Madge Crawford's frightened family. The girl, whose picture stood on a working table nearby, looked at them from the photograph as a beautiful young woman of twenty-five, light of hair, with large eyes and a lovely face.
Detective Phillips pointed dramatically to the likeness of the missing girl. "Can you," he said, "look at her there, and deny you loved her? And if she did not love you in return, then we have a motive for what you have done—jealousy. Come, tell us what you have done with her. Our men will find her, anyway; they are searching the cellar for her now. You can't hope to keep her, alive, and if she is dead—"
Lambert uttered a cry of despair, and put his face in his long fingers. "She—she—don't say she's dead!"
"Then you did love her!" exclaimed Phillips triumphantly, and exchanged glances with his companions.
"Of course I love her. And she returned my love. We were secretly engaged, and were to be married when we had finished these extremely important experiments. It is infamous though, to accuse me of having killed her; if I have done so, then it was no fault of mine."
"Then you did kill her?"
"No, no. I cannot believe she is really gone."
"Why did you evade her parents' inquiries?"
"Because ... I have been trying to bring her ... to re-materialize her."
"You mean to bring her back to life?"
"Couldn't a doctor do that better than you, if she is hidden somewhere about here?" asked Phillips gravely.
"No, no. You do not understand. She cannot be seen, she has dematerialized. Oh, go away. I'm the only man, save, possibly, my friend Doctor Morgan, who can help her now. And Morgan—I've thought of calling him, but I've been working every instant to get the right combination. Go away, for God's sake!"
"We can't go away until we have found out Miss Crawford's fate," said Phillips patiently.
* * * * *
Another sleuth entered the immense laboratory. He made his way through the myriad strange machines, a weird collection of xylophones, gongs, stone slabs cut in peculiar patterns to produce odd rhythmic sounds, electrical apparatus of all sorts. Near Phillips was a plate some feet square, of heavy metal, raised from the floor on poles of a different substance. About the ceiling were studs thickly set of the same sort of metal as was the big plate.
One of the sleuths tapped his forehead, pointing to Lambert as the latter nervously lighted a cigarette.
The newcomer reported to Phillips. He held in his hand two or three sheets of paper on which something was written.
"The only other person here is a deaf mute," said the sleuth to Phillips, his superior. "I've got his story. He writes that he takes care of things, cooks their meals and so on. And he writes further that he thinks the woman and this guy Lambert were in love with each other. He has no idea where she has gone to. Here, you read it."
Phillips took the sheets and continued: "'Yesterday morning about ten o'clock I was passing the door of the laboratory on my way to make up Professor Lambert's bed. Suddenly I noticed a queer, shimmering, greenish-blue light streaming down from the walls and ceiling of the laboratory. I was right outside the place and though I cannot hear anything, I was knocked down and I twisted and wriggled around like a snake. It felt like something with a thousand little paws but with great strength was pushing me every way. When there was a lull, and the light had stopped for a few moments, I staggered to my feet and ran madly for my own quarters, scared out of my head. As I went by the kitchen, I saw Miss Crawford at the sink there, filling some vases and arranging flowers as she usually did every morning.
"'If she called to me, I did not hear her or notice her lips moving. I believe she came to the door.
"'I was going to quit, when I recovered myself, angry at what had occurred; but then, I began to feel ashamed for being such a baby, for Professor Lambert has been very good to me. About fifteen minutes after I went to my room, I was able to return to the kitchen. Miss Crawford was not there, though the flowers and vases were. Then, as I started to work, still a little alarmed, Professor Lambert came rushing into the kitchen, an expression of terror on his face. His mouth was open, and I think he was calling. He then ran out, back to the laboratory, and I have not seen Miss Madge since. Professor Lambert has been almost continuously in the work-room since then, and—I kept away from it, because I was afraid.'"
* * * * *
Two more members of Phillips' squad broke into the laboratory and came toward the chief. They had been working at physical labor, for they were still perspiring and one regarded his hands with a rueful expression.
"Any luck?" asked Phillips eagerly.
"No, boss. We been all over the place, and we dug every spot we could get to earth in the cellar. Most of it's three-inch concrete, without a sign of a break."
"Did you look in the furnace?"
"We looked there the first thing. She ain't there."
There were several closets in the laboratory, and Phillips opened all of them and inspected them. As he moved near the big plate, Lambert uttered a cry of warning. "Don't disturb that, don't touch anything near it!"
"All right, all right," said Phillips testily.
The skeptical sleuths had classified Lambert as a "nut," and were practically sure he had done away with Madge Crawford because she would not marry him.
Still, they needed better evidence than their mere beliefs. There was no corpus delicti, for instance.
"Gentlemen," said Lambert at last, controlling his emotions with a great effort. "I will admit to you that I am in trepidation and a state of mental torture as to Miss Crawford's fate. You are delaying matters, keeping me from my work."
"He thinks about work when the girl he claims he loves has disappeared," said Doherty, in a loud whisper to Phillips. Doherty was one of the sleuths who had been digging in the cellar, and the hard work had made his temper short.
"You must help us find Miss Crawford before we can let you alone," said Phillips. "Can't you understand that you are under grave suspicion of having injured her, hidden her away? This is a serious matter, Professor Lambert. Your experiments can wait."
"This one cannot," shouted Lambert, shaking his fists. "You are fools!"
"Steady now," said Doherty.
* * * * *
"Perhaps you had better come with us to the district attorney's office," went on Phillips. "There you may come to your senses and realize the futility of trying to cover up your crime—if you have committed one. If you have not, why do you not tell us where Miss Crawford is?"
"Because I do not know myself," replied Lambert. "But you can't take me away from here. I beg of you, gentlemen, allow me a little more time. I must have it."
Phillips shook his head. "Not unless you tell us logically what has occurred," he said.
"Then I must, though I do not think you will comprehend or even believe me. Briefly, it is this: yesterday morning I was working on the final series of experiments with a new type of harmonic overtones plus a new type of sinusoidal current which I had arranged with a series of selenium cells. When I finally threw the switch—remember, I was many weeks preparing the apparatus, and had just put the final touches on early that morning—there was a sound such as never had been heard before by human ears, an indescribable sound, terrifying and mysterious. Also, there was a fierce, devouring verditer blue light, and this came from the plates and studs you see, but so great was its strength that it got out of control and leaped about the room like a live thing. For some moments, while it increased in intensity as I raised the power of the current by means of the switch I held in my hand, I watched and listened in fascination. My instruments had ceased to record, though they are the most delicate ever invented and can handle almost anything which man can even surmise."
* * * * *
The perspiration was pouring from Lambert's face, as he recounted his story. The detectives listened, comprehending but a little of the meaning of the scientist's words.
"What has this to do with Miss Crawford?" asked Doherty impatiently.
Phillips held up his hand to silence the other sleuth. "Let him finish," he ordered. "Go on, professor."
"The sensations which I was undergoing became unendurable," went on Lambert, in a low, hoarse voice. "I was forced to cry out in pain and confusion.
"Miss Crawford evidently heard my call, for a few moments later, just as the terrific unknown force reached its apex, she dashed into the laboratory, and stepped across the plate you see there.
"I was powerless. Though I shut off the current by a superhuman effort, she—she was gone!"
Lambert put his face in his hands, a sob shook his broad shoulders.
"Gone?" repeated Phillips. "What do you mean, gone?"
"She disappeared, before my very eyes," said the professor shakily. "Torn into nothingness by the fierce force of the current or sound. Since then, I have been trying to reproduce the conditions of the experiment, for I wish to bring her back. If I cannot do so, then I want to join her, wherever she has gone. I love her, I know now that I cannot possibly live without her. Will you please leave me alone, now, so that I can continue?"
Doherty laughed derisively. "What a story," he jeered.
"Keep quiet, Doherty," ordered Phillips. "Now, Professor Lambert, your explanation of Miss Crawford's disappearance does not sound logical to us, but still we are willing to give you every chance to bring her back, if what you say is true. We cannot leave you entirely alone, because you might try to escape or you might carry out your threat of suicide. Therefore, I am going to sit over there in the corner, quietly, where I can watch you but will not interfere with your work. We will give you until midnight to prove your story. Then you must go with us to the district attorney. Do you agree to that?"
* * * * *
Lambert nodded, eagerly. "I agree. Let me work in peace, and if I do not succeed then you may take me anywhere you wish. If you can," he added, in an undertone.
Doherty and the others, at Phillips' orders, filed from the laboratory. "One thing more, professor," said Phillips, when they were alone and the professor was preparing to work. "How do you explain the fact, if your story is true, that Miss Crawford was killed and made to disappear, while you yourself, close by, were uninjured?"
"Do you see these garments?" asked Lambert, indicating some black clothes which lay on a bench nearby. "They insulated me from the current and partially protected me from the sound. Though the force was very great, great enough to penetrate my insulation, it was handicapped in my case because of the garments."
"I see. Well, you may go on."
Phillips moved in the chair he had taken, from time to time. He could hear the noises of his men, still searching the premises for Madge Crawford, and Professor Lambert heard them, too.
"Will you tell your men to be quiet?" he cried at last.
There were dark circles under Lambert's eyes. He was working in a state of feverish anxiety. When the girl he loved had dematerialized from under his very eyes, panic had seized him; he had ripped away wires to break the current and lost the thread of his experiment, so that he could not reproduce it exactly without much labor.
The scientist put on the black robes, and Phillips wished he too had some protective armor, even though he did believe that Lambert had told them a parcel of lies. The deaf mute's story was not too reassuring. Phillips warned his companions to be more quiet, and he himself sat quite still.
* * * * *
Lambert knew that the sleuths thought he was stark mad. He was aware of the fact that he had but a few hours in which to save the girl who had come at his cry to help him, who had loved him and whom he loved, only to be torn into some place unknown by the forces which were released in his experiment. And he knew he would rather die with her than live without her.
He labored feverishly, though he tried to keep his brain calm in order to win. His notes helped him up to a certain point, but when he had made the final touches he had not had time to bring the data up to the moment, being eager to test out his apparatus. It was while testing that the awful event had occurred and he had seen Madge Crawford disappear before his very eyes.
Her eyes, large and frightened, burned in his mind.
The deaf mute, Felix, a small, spare man of about fifty, sent the professor some food and coffee through one of the sleuths. Lambert swallowed the coffee, but waved away the rest, impatiently. Phillips, watching his suspect constantly, was served a light supper at the end of the afternoon.
There seemed to be a million wires to be touched, tested, and various strange apparatus. Several times, later on in the evening. Lambert threw the big switch with an air of expectancy, but little happened. Then Lambert would go to work again, testing, testing—adjusting this and that till Phillips swore under his breath.
"Only an hour more, professor," said Phillips, who was bored to death and cramped from trying to obey the professor's orders to keep still. A circle of cigarette-ends surrounded the sleuth.
"Only an hour," agreed Lambert. "Will you please be quiet, my man? This is a matter of my fiancee's life or death."
Phillips was somewhat disgruntled, for he felt he had done Lambert quite a favor in allowing him to remain in the laboratory for so long, to prove his story.
"I wish Doctor Morgan were here; I ought to have sent for him, I suppose," said Lambert, a few minutes later. "Will you allow me to get him? I cannot seem to perfect this last stage."
"No time, now," declared Phillips. "I said till midnight."
It was obvious to Lambert that the detective had become certain during the course of the evening that the scientist was mad. The ceaseless fiddling and the lack of results or even spectacular sights had convinced Phillips that he had to do with a crank.
"I think I have it now," said Lambert coolly.
"What?" asked Phillips.
"The original combination. I had forgotten one detail in the excitement, and this threw me off. Now I believe I will succeed—in one way or another. I warn you, be careful. I am about to release forces which may get out of my control."
"Well, now, don't get reckless," begged Phillips nervously. The array of machines had impressed him, even if Lambert did seem a fool.
"You insist upon remaining, so it is your own risk," said Lambert coolly.
Lambert, in the strange robes, was a bizarre figure. The hood was thrown back, exposing his pale, black-bearded face, the wan eyes with dark circles under them, and the twitching lips.
"If you find yourself leaving this vale of tears," went on the scientist, ironically, to the sleuth, "you will at least have the comfort of realizing that as the sound-force disintegrates your mortal form you are among the first of men to be attuned to the vibrations of the unknown sound world. All matter is vibration; that has been proven. A building of bricks, if shaken in the right manner, falls into its component parts; a bridge, crossed by soldiers in certain rhythmic time, is torn from its moorings. A tuning fork, receiving the sound vibrations from one of a similar size and shape begins to vibrate in turn. These are homely analogies, but applied to the less familiar sound vibrations, which make up our atomic world, they may help you to understand how the terrific forces I have discovered can disintegrate flesh."
The scientist looked inquiringly at Phillips. As the sleuth did not move, but sat with folded arms, Lambert shrugged and said, "I am ready."
Lambert raised his hood, and Phillips said, in a spirit of bravado, "You can't scare me out of here."
"Here goes the switch," cried Lambert.
He made the contact, as he had before. He stood for a moment, and this time the current gained force. The experimenter pushed his lever all the way over.
* * * * *
A terrible greenish-blue light suddenly illuminated the laboratory, and through the air there came sound vibrations which seemed to tear at Phillips' body. He found himself on the floor, knocked from his chair, and he writhed this way and that, speechless, suffering a torment of agony. His whole flesh seemed to tremble in unison with the waves which emanated from the machines which Lambert manipulated.
After what seemed hours to the suffering sleuth, the force diminished, and soon Phillips was able to rise. Trembling, the detective cursed and yelled for help in a high-pitched voice.
Lambert had thrown back his hood, and was rocking to and fro in agony.
"Madge, Madge," he cried, "what have I done! Come back to me, come back!"
Doherty and the others came running in at their chief's shouts. "Arrest him," ordered Phillips shakily. "I've stood enough of this nonsense."
The detectives started for Lambert. He saw them coming, and swiftly threw off the protective garments he wore.
"Stand back!" he cried, and threw the switch all the way over. The verditer green light smashed through the air, and the queer sound sensations smacked and tore them; Doherty, who had drawn a revolver when he was answering Phillips' cries, fired the gun into the air, and the report seemed to battle with the vibrating ether.
Lambert, as he threw the switch, leaped forward and landed on the metal plate under the ceiling studs, in the very center of the awful disturbance and unprotected from its force.
For a few moments, Lambert felt racking pain, as though something were tearing at his flesh, separating the very atoms. The scientist saw the wriggling figures of the sleuths, in various strange position, but his impressions were confused. His head whirled round and round, he swayed to and fro, and, finally, he thought he fell down, or rather, that he had melted, as a lump of sugar dissolves in water.
In the heart of nothingness was Lambert, his body torn and racked in a shrieking chaos of sound and a blinding glare of iridescent light which seemed too much to bear.
His last conscious thought was a prayer, that, having failed to bring back his sweetheart, Madge Crawford, he was undergoing a step toward the same destination to which he had sent her.
* * * * *
John Lambert came to with a shudder. But it was not a mortal shudder. He could sense no body; had no sense of being confined by matter. He was in a strange, chilly place—a twilight region, limitless, without dimensions.
Yet he could feel something, in an impersonal way, vaguely indifferent. He had no pain now.
He was moving, somehow. He had one impelling desire, and that was to discover Madge Crawford. Perhaps it was this thought which directed his movements.
Intent upon finding the girl, if she was indeed in this same strange world that he was, he did not notice for some time—how long, he had no way of telling—that there were other beings which tried to impede his progress. But as he grew more accustomed to the unfamiliar sensations he was undergoing, he found his path blocked again and again by queer beings.
They were living, without doubt, and had intelligence, and evinced hostility toward him. But they were shapeless, shapeless as amoebas. He heard them in a sort of soundless whisper, and could see them without the use of eyes. And he shuddered, though he could feel no body in which he might be confined. Still, when he pinched viciously with invisible fingers at the spot where his face should have been, a twinge of pain registered on the vague consciousness which appeared to be all there was to him.
He was not sure of his substance, though he could evidently experience human sensations with his amorphous body. He did not know whether he could see; yet, he was dodging this way and that, as the beings who occupied this world tried to stop him.
They gave him the impression of gray shapes, and in coppery shadows things gleamed and closed in on him.
He seemed to hear a cry, and he knew that he was receiving a call for help from Madge Crawford. He tried to run, pushed determinedly toward the spot, impelled by his love for the girl.
* * * * *
Now, as he hurried, he occasionally was stopped short by collision with the formless shapes which were all about him. He was hampered by them, for they followed him, making a sound like wind heard in a dream. Whatever medium he was in was evidently thickly inhabited by the hostile beings who claimed this world as their own. Though he could not actually feel the medium, he could sense that it was heavy. He leaped and ran, fighting his way through the increasing hosts, and the roar of their voice-impressions increased in his consciousness.
Yet there seemed to be nothing, nothing tangible save vagueness. He felt he was in a blind spot in space, a place of no dimensions, no time, where beings abhorred by nature, things which had never developed any dimensional laws, existed.
The cry for help struck him, with more force this time. Lambert, whatever form he was in, realised that he was close to the end of his journey to Madge Crawford.
He tried to speak, and had the impression that he said something reassuring. He then bumped into some vibrational being which he knew was Madge. His ears could not hear, nor could his flesh feel, but his whole form or cerebrum sensed he held the woman he loved in his arms.
And she was speaking to him, in accents of fear, begging him to save her.
"John, John, you have come at last. They have been torturing me terribly. Save me."
"Darling Madge, I will do everything I can. Now I have found you, and we are together and will never part. Can you hear me?"
"I know what you are thinking, and what you wish to say. I can't exactly hear; it all seems vague, and impossible. Yet I can suffer. They have been hitting me with something which makes me shudder and shake—there, they are at it again."
* * * * *
Lambert felt the sensations, now, which the girl had made known to him. He felt crowded by gray beings, and his existence was troubled by spasms of pain-impressions. He knew Madge was crying out, too.
He could not comprehend the attacks, or guess their meaning. But the situation was unendurable.
Anger shook him, and he began to fight, furiously but vaguely. They were closely hemmed in, but when Lambert began to strike out with hands and legs, the beings gave way a little. The scientist tried to shout, and though he could actually hear nothing, the result was gratifying. The formless creatures seemed to scatter and draw back in confusion as he yelled his defiance.
"They hate that," Madge said to him. "I have screamed myself hoarse and that is why they have not killed me—if I can be killed."
"I do not believe we can. But they can torture us," replied Lambert. "It is an everlasting half-life or quarter-life, and these creatures who call this Hell's Dimension home, have nothing but hatred for us in their consciousness."
The inhabitants of the imperfect world had closed in once again and the sharp instruments of torture they used were being thrust into the invisible bodies of the two humans. Each time, Lambert was unable to restrain his cries, for it seemed that he was being torn to pieces by vibrations.
He yelled until he could not speak above a whisper, or at least until the impressions of speech he gave forth did not trouble the beings. The two humans, still bound to some extent by their mortal beliefs, were chivvied to and fro, and struck and bullied. The creatures seemed to delight in this sport.
The two felt they could not die; yet they could suffer terribly. Would this go on through eternity? Was there no release?
* * * * *
They were trying to tear Madge away from him. She was fighting them, and Lambert, in a frenzy of rage, made a determined effort to get away with the girl from their tormentors.
They retreated before his onslaughts. Drawing Madge after him, Lambert put down his head—or believed he was doing so—and ran as fast as he could at the beings.
He bumped into some invisible forms and was slowed in his rush, but he shouted and flailed about with his arms, and tried to kick. Madge helped by screaming and striking out. They made some distance in this way, or so they thought, and the horrid creatures gave way before them.
All about them was the coppery sensation of the medium in which they moved: Lambert as he became more used to the form he was inhabiting, he began to think he could discern dreadful eyes which stared unblinkingly at the couple.
He fought on, and believed they had come to a spot where the beings did not molest them, though they still sensed the things glaring at them.
Were they on some invisible eminence, above the reach of these queer creatures?
"We might as well stop here, for if we try to go farther we may come to a worse place," said Lambert.
They rested there, in temporary peace, together at last.
* * * * *
"I seem to be happy now," said Madge, clinging close. "I feared I would never see you again. John dear. I ran to you when you called out that day and when I crossed the plate, I was torn and racked and knocked down. When I next experienced sensation, it was in this terrible form. I am becoming more used to it, but I kept crying out for you: the beings, as soon as they discovered my presence, began to torment me. More and more have been collecting, and I have a sensation of seeing them as horrible, revolting beasts. Oh, John, I don't think I could have stood it much longer, if you hadn't come to me. They were driving me on, on, on, ceaselessly torturing me."