"These two who are drugged, their bodies can be thrown in a gully down behind St. Anne. That what the doctor plan to do, I think. Then the police find them—days maybe from now—and their smashed airship with them."
The man at the microscope called, "They are gone. Almost. I can hardly see them more." He left the platform and joined the others. And I saw that he was much smaller than they—about my own size possibly.
There seemed six men here altogether. Four now, by the ingots, and two others far across the room where I saw the dark entrance of the corridor-tunnel which led to Polter's castle.
Again I felt a warning hand touch my face, and saw the figure of Glora standing by my head. She was larger now—about a foot tall. She moved past my eyes; stood by my mouth; bent down over my gag. I felt the cautious side of a tiny knife-blade inserted under the fabric of the gag. She hacked, tugged at it, and in a moment ripped it through.
She stood panting from the effort. My heart was pounding with fear that she would be seen; but the man had turned the central light off when he left the microscope, and it was far darker here now than before.
* * * * *
I moistened my dry mouth. My tongue was thick, but I could talk.
"Thank you, Glora."
I felt her hacking at the ropes around my wrists. And then at my ankles. It took her a long time, but at last I was free! I rubbed my arms and legs; felt the returning strength in them.
And presently Alan was free. "George, what—" he began.
"Wait!" I whispered. "Easy! Let her tell us what to do."
We were unarmed. Two, against these six, three of whom were giants.
Glora whispered, "Do not move! I have the drugs. But I can no give them to you when I am still so small. I have not enough. I will hide—there." Her little arm gestured to where, near us, half a dozen boxes were piled. "When I am large as you, I come back. Be ready, quickly to act. I may be seen. I give you then the drug."
"But wait," Alan whispered. "We must know—"
"The drug to make you large. In a moment then you can fight these men. I had planned it for myself, to do that, and then I saw you held captive. That girl of your world the doctor just now steal, she is friend of yours?
"Yes! Yes, Glora. But—" A thousand questions were springing in my mind, but this was no time to ask them. I amended, "Go! Hurry! Give us the drug when you can."
The little figure moved away from us and disappeared. Alan and I lay as we had before. But now we could whisper. We tried to anticipate what would happen; tried to plan, but that was futile. The thing was too strange, too astoundingly fantastic.
* * * * *
HOW long Glora was gone I do not know. I think, not over three or four minutes. She came from her hiding place, crouching this time, and joined us. She was, probably, of normal Earth size—a small, frail-looking girl something over five feet tall. We saw now that she was about sixteen years old. We lay staring at her, amazed at her beauty. Her small oval face was pale, with the flush of pink upon her cheeks—a face queerly, transcendently beautiful. It was wholly human, yet somehow unearthly, as though unmarked by even the heritage of our Earthly strifes.
"Now! I am ready." She was fumbling at her robe. "I will give you each the same."
Her gestures were rapid. She flung a quick glance at the distant men. Alan and I were tense. We could easily be discovered now, but we had to chance it. We were sitting erect. He murmured:
"But what do we do? What happens? What—"
On the palm of her hand were two small pink-white pellets. "Take these—one for each of you. Quickly!"
Involuntarily we drew back. The thing abruptly was gruesome, frightening. Horribly frightening.
"Quickly," she urged. "The drug is what you call highly radio-active. And volatile. Exposed to the air it is gone very soon. You are afraid? No! No, it will not harm you."
With a muttered curse at his own reluctance, Alan seized the pellet. I stopped him.
* * * * *
The men momentarily were engaged in a low-voiced, earnest discussion. I dared to hesitate a moment longer.
"Glora, where will you be?"
"Here. Right here. I will hide."
"We want to go after Mr. Polter." I gestured. "Into that little piece of golden rock. Is that where he went? Is that where he took the Earth girl?"
"Yes. My world is there—within an atom there in that rock."
"Will you take us?"
Alan whispered suddenly, "Then let us go now. Get smaller, now."
But she shook her head vehemently. "That is not possible. We would be seen as we climbed the platform and crossed the white slab."
"No." I protested. "Not if we get very small, hiding here first."
She was smiling, but urgently fearful of this delay. "Should we get that small, then it would be, from here"—she gestured toward the microscope—"to there, a journey of very many miles. Don't you understand?"
This thing so strange!
Alan was plucking at me. "Ready, George?"
I put the pellet on my tongue. It tasted slightly sweet, but seemed quickly melted and I swallowed it hastily. My head swam. My heart was pounding, but that was apprehension, not the drug. A thrill of heat ran through my veins as though my blood were on fire.
Alan was clinging to me as we sat together. Glora again had vanished. In the background of my whirling consciousness the sudden thought hovered that she had tricked us; done to us something diabolical. But the thought was swept away in the confusion of the flood of impressions upon me.
I turned dizzily. "All right, Alan?"
"Yes, I—I guess so."
My ears were roaring, the room seemed whirling, but in a moment that passed. I felt a sudden, growing sense of lightness. A humming was within me—a soundless tingle. To every tiny microscopic cell in my body the drug had gone. The myriad pores of my skin seemed thrilling with activity. I know now it was the exuding volatile gas of this disintegrating drug. Like an aura it enveloped me, acted upon my garments.
* * * * *
I learned later much of the principles of this and its companion drug. I had no thought for such things now. The huge dimly illumined room under the dome was swaying. Then abruptly it steadied. The strange sensations within me were lessening, or I forgot them. And I became aware of externals.
The room was shrinking! As I stared, not with horror now, but with amazement and a coming triumph, I saw everywhere a slow, steady, crawling movement. The whole place was dwindling. The platform, the microscope, were nearer than before, and smaller. The pile of ingots, with the men off there, was shifting toward me.
"George! My God—weird!"
I saw Alan's white face as I turned to him. He was growing at the same rate as myself evidently, for of all the scene he only was unchanged.
We could feel the movement. The floor under us was shifting, crawling slowly. From all directions it came, contracting as though it were being squeezed beneath us. In reality our expanding bodies were pushing outward.
The pile of boxes which had been a few feet away, were thrusting themselves at me I moved incautiously and knocked them over. They seemed small now, perhaps half their former size. Glora was standing behind them. I was sitting and she was standing, but across the litter, our faces were level.
"Stand up!" she murmured. "You all right now. I hide!"
I struggled to my feet, drawing Alan up with me. Now! The time for action was upon us! We had already been discovered. The men were shouting, clambering to their feet. Alan and I stood swaying. The dome-room had contracted to half its former size. Near us was a little platform, chair and microscope. Small figures of men were rushing at us.
I shouted, "Alan! Watch yourself!"
* * * * *
We were unarmed. These men might have automatics. But evidently they did not. Knives were in their hands. The whole place was ringing with shouts. And then a shrill siren alarm from outside was clanging.
The first of the men—a few moments before he had seemed a giant—flung himself upon me. His head was lower than my shoulders. I met him with a blow of my fist in his face. He toppled backward; but from one side, another figure came at me. A knife-blade bit into the flesh of my thigh.
The pain seemed to fire my brain. A madness descended upon me. It was the madness of abnormality. I saw Alan with two dwarfed figures clinging to him. But he threw them off, and they turned and ran.
The man at my thigh stabbed again, but I caught his wrist and, as though he were a child, whirled him around me and flung him away. He landed with a crash against the shrunken pile of gold nuggets and lay still.
The place was in a turmoil. Other men were appearing from outside. But they stood now well away from us. Alan backed against me. His laugh rang out, half hysterical with the madness upon him as it was upon me.
"God! George, look at them! So small!"
They were now hardly the height of our knees. This was now a small, circular room, under a lowering concave dome. A shot came from the group of pigmy figures. I saw the small stab of flame, heard the sing of the bullet.
We rushed, with the full frenzy of madness upon us, enraged giants. What actually happened I can not recount. I recall scattering the little figures; seizing them; flinging them headlong. A bullet, tiny now, stung the calf of my leg. Little chairs and tables under my feet were crashing. Alan was lunging back and forth; stamping; flinging his tiny adversaries away. There were twenty or thirty of the figures here now. Then I saw some of them escaping.
The room was littered with wreckage. I saw that by some miracle of chance the microscope was still standing, and I had a moment of sanity.
"Alan, watch out! The microscope! The platform—don't smash it! And Glora! Look out for her!"
* * * * *
I suddenly became aware that my head and a shoulder had struck the dome roof. Why, this was a tiny room! Alan and I found ourselves backed together, panting in the small confines of a circular cubby with an arching dome close over us. At our feet the platform with the microscope over it hardly reached our boot-tops. There was a sudden silence, broken only by our heavy breathing. The tiny forms of humans strewn around us were all motionless. The others had fled.
Then we heard a small voice. "Here! Take this! Quickly! You are too large! Quickly!"
Alan took a step. And then a sudden panic was on us both. Glora was here at our feet. We did not dare turn; hardly dared move. To stoop might have crushed her. My leg hit the top of the microscope cylinder. It rocked but did not fall.
Where was Glora? In the gloom we could not see her. We were in a panic.
Alan began, "George, I say—"
The contracting inner curve of the dome bumped gently against my head. The panic of confusion which was upon us turned to fear. The room was closing in to crush us.
I muttered. "Alan! I'm going out!" I braced myself and heaved against the side and top curve of the dome. Its metal ribs and heavy translucent, reinforced glass plates resisted me. There was an instant when Alan and I were desperately frightened. We were trapped, to be crushed in here by our own horrible growth. Then the dome yielded under our smashing blows. The ribs bent; the plates cracked.
We straightened, pushed upward and emerged through the broken dome, with head and shoulders towering into the outside darkness and the wind and snow of the blizzard howling around us!
The Journey Into Smallness
"Glora, that—that was horrible."
We stood, again in normal size, with the wrecked dome-laboratory around us. The dome had a great jagged hole halfway up one of its sides, through which the snow was falling. The broken bodies strewn around were gruesome.
Alan repeated, "Horrible, Glora. This drug, the power of it, is diabolical."
Glora had grown large after us; had given us the companion drug. I need not detail the strange sensations of our dwindling. We were so soon to experience them again!
We had searched, when still large, all of Polter's grounds. Some of his men undoubtedly escaped, made off into the blizzard. How many, we never knew. None of them ever made themselves known again.
We were ready to start into the atom. The fragment of golden quartz still lay under the microscope on the white square of stone slab. We had hurried with our last preparations. The room was chilling. We were all inadequately dressed for such cold.
I left a note scribbled on a square of paper by the microscope. With daylight, Polter's wrecked place would be discovered. The police would come.
"Guard this piece of golden quartz. Take it at once, very carefully, to the Royal Canadian Scientific Society. Have it watched day and night. We will return."
I signed it George Randolph. And as I did so, the extraordinary aspect of these events swept me anew. Here in Polter's weird place I had seemed living in some strange fantastic realm. But this was the Province of Quebec, in civilized Canada. These were the Quebec authorities I was addressing.
I flung the thoughts away. "Ready, Glora?"
* * * * *
Then doubts assailed me. None of Polter's men had gotten large to fight us. Evidently he did not trust them with the drug. We could well believe that, for the thing, misused, was diabolical beyond human conception. A single giant, a criminal, a madman, by the power of giant size alone, could devastate the earth! The drug, lost, or carelessly handled, could get loose. Animals, insects, eating it, could roam the earth, gigantic monsters! Vegetation, nourished with it, might in a day overrun a great city, burying it with a jungle growth!
How terrible a thing, if the realm of smallness were suddenly to emerge! Monsters of the sea, marine organisms, could expand until even the ocean was too small for them. Microbes of disease, feeding upon this drug—
Alan was gripping me. "We're ready, George."
"Yes. Yes, I'm ready."
This was not largeness we were facing now, but smallness. I thought of Babs, down there with Polter, beyond the vanishing point in the realm of the infinitely small. They had been gone an hour at least. Every moment lost now was adding to Bab's danger.
"Yes. I'm ready, Alan."
Glora sat with us on the platform. Strange little creature! She was wholly calm now; methodical with her last directions. There had been no time for her to tell us anything about herself. Alan had asked her why she had come here and how she had gotten the drugs. She waved him away:
"On the journey down. Plenty of time, then."
"How long?" Alan demanded.
"Not too long. If we are careful with managing the trip, what you might call ten hours."
* * * * *
And now as we were ready to start, she told us calmly:
"I will give you each your share of the drugs, but them you take only as I tell you."
She produced from her robe several small vials a few inches long. They were tightly stoppered. The feel of them was cool and sleek; they seemed of some strange, polished metal. Some of them were tinted black while the others glowed opalescent. She gave each of us one vial of each kind.
"The light ones are for diminishing," she said. "We take them very carefully, one small pellet only at first."
Alan was opening one of his, but she checked him.
"Wait! The drug evaporates very quickly. I have more to say, first. We sit here together. Then you follow me to the white slab. We climb upon the little rock."
She laid her hands on our arms. Her blue eyes regarded us earnestly. Her manner was naive; childlike. But I could not mistake her intelligence; the force of character stamped on her face for all its dainty, ethereal beauty.
"Alan—" She smiled at him, and tossed back a straying lock of her hair which was annoying her. "You pay attention, Alan. You are very young, reckless. You listen. We must not be separated. You understand that, both of you? We will be always in that little piece of rock. But there will be miles of distance. And to be lost in size—"
Strange journey upon which now we were starting! Lost in size?
"You understand me? Lost in size. If that happens, we might never find each other. And if we come upon the Doctor Polter and the girl he holds captive—if we can overtake them—"
"We must!" I exclaimed. "And we must start, Glora!"
* * * * *
She showed us which pellet to select. They were of several sizes, I found. And as she afterward told us, the larger ones were not only larger but of an intensified strength. We took the smallest. It was barely a thousandth part of the strength of the largest. In unison we placed the pellets on our tongues, and hastily swallowed.
The first sensations were as before. And, familiar now, they caused no more than a fleeting discomfort. But I think I could never get used to the outward strangeness!
The room in a moment was expanding. I could feel the platform floor crawling outward beneath me, so that I had to hitch and change my position as it pulled. We were seated together, Alan and I on each side of Glora. My fingers were on her arm. It did not change size, but it slowly drew away with a space opening between us. Overhead, the dome-roof, the great jagged hole there, was receding, lifting, moving upward and away.
Glora pulled us to our feet. "We had better start now. The distance is so far, so quickly."
We had been sitting within five feet of the stone slab with its little four-inch-high railing around it. A chair was by the microscope eyepiece. As we stood swaying I saw that the chair was huge, and its seat level with my head. The great barrel-cylinder of the microscope slanted sixty feet upward. The dome-roof was a distant spread three hundred feet up in the dimness. This gigantic room! It was a vast arena now.
Alan and I must have hesitated, confused by the expanding scene—a slow steady movement everywhere. Everything was drawing away from us. Even as we stood together, the creeping platform floor was separating us.
A moment passed. Glora was urging vehemently:
"Come! You must not stand!"
We started walking. The railing around the slab was knee-high. The slab itself was a broad square surface. The fragment of golden quartz lay in its center. It was now a jagged lump nearly a foot in diameter!
* * * * *
The platform seemed shifting as we walked; the railing hardly came closer as we advanced toward it. Then suddenly I realized it was receding. Thirty feet away? No, now it was more than that—a great, thick rope, waist-high, with a huge spread of white surface behind it.
"Faster!" urged Glora. We ran, and reached the railing. It was higher than our heads. We ran under it, and out upon the white slab—a level surface, larger now than the whole dome-room had been.
Glora, like a fawn ran in advance of us, her draperies flying in the wind. She turned to look back.
"Faster! Faster—or it will be too hard a climb!"
Ahead lay a golden mound of rock. It was widening; raising its top steadily higher. Beyond it and over it was a vast dim distance. We reached the rock, breathless, winded. It was a jagged mound like a great fifty-foot butte. We plunged upon it, began climbing.
The ascent was steep; precipitous in places. There were little gullies, which expanded as we climbed up them. It seemed that we should never reach the top, but at last we were there. I was aware that the drug had ceased its action. The yellow rocky ground was no longer expanding.
We came to the summit and stood to get back our breath. And Alan and I gazed with awe upon the top of a rocky hill. Little buttes and strewn boulders lay everywhere. It was all naked rock, ridged and pitted, and everywhere yellow-tinged.
Overhead was distance. I could not call it a sky. A blur was there—something almost but not quite distinguishable. Then I thought that I could make out a more solid blur which might be the lower lens of the microscope above us. And there were blurred, very distant spots of light, like huge suns masked by a haze, and I knew that they were the hooded lights of the laboratory room.
* * * * *
Before us, over the brink of a five hundred-foot cliff, a great glistening white plain stretched into the distance. I seemed to see where it ended in a murky blur. And far higher than our own hilltop level a horizontal streak marked the rope railing of the slab.
"Well," said Alan, "we're here." He gazed behind us, back across the rocky summit which seemed several hundred feet across to its opposite brink. He was smiling, but the smile faded. "Now what, Glora? Another pellet?"
"No. Not yet. There is a place where we go down. It is marked in my mind."
I had a sudden ominous sense that we three were not alone up here. Glora led us back from the cliff. As we picked our way among the naked crags, it seemed behind each of them an enemy might be lurking.
"Glora, do you know if any of Dr. Polter's men have the drug? I mean, do they come in and out here?"
She shook her head. "I think not. He lets no one have the drug. He trusts not any one. I stole it; I will tell you later. Much I have to tell you before we arrive."
Alan made a sudden sidewise leap, and dashed around a rock. He came back to us, smiling ruefully.
"Gets on your nerves, all this. I had the same idea you did, George. Might be someone around here. But I guess not." He took Glora's hand and they walked in advance of me. "We haven't thanked you yet, Glora."
"Not needed. I came for help from your world. I could not get back to my own, and I followed the Doctor Polter when he came outward. He has made my world, my people, his slaves. I came for help. And because I have helped you needs no thanks."
"But we do thank you, Glora." Alan turned his flushed, earnest face back to me. I thought I had never seen him so handsome, with his boyish, rugged features, and shock of tousled brown hair. The grimness of adventure was upon him, but in his eyes there was something else. It was not for me to see it. That was for Glora; and I think that even then its presence and its meaning did not escape her.
"Stay close, George."
* * * * *
We reached a little gully near the center of the hilltop. It was some twenty feet deep. Glora paused.
"We descend here."
The gully was an unmistakable landmark—open at one end, forty feet long, with the other end terminating in a blind wall, smoothly precipitous. We retraced our steps, entered the gully at its open end, and walked its length. Glora paused by the wall which now loomed above us.
"A pit is here—a hole. I cannot tell just how large it will look when we are in this size."
We found and stood over it—a foot-wide circular hole extending downward. Alan abruptly knelt and shoved his hand and arm into it, but Glora sprang at him.
"Don't do that!"
"Why not? Is this it? How deep is it?"
She retorted sharply, "The Doctor Polter is ahead of us. How far away in size, who knows? Do you want to crush him, and crush that young girl with him?"
Alan's jaw dropped. "Good Lord!"
We stood with the little pit before us, and another of the pellets ready.
"Now!" said Glora.
Again we took the drug, a somewhat larger pellet this time. The familiar sensations began. Everywhere the rocks were creeping with a slow inexorable movement, the landscape expanding around us. The gully walls drew back and upward. In a moment they were precipice cliff-walls and we were in a broad valley.
We had been standing close together. We had not moved except to shift our feet as the expanding ground drew them apart. I became aware that Alan and Glora were a distance from me. Glora called:
"Come, George! We go down, quickly now."
* * * * *
We ran to the pit. It had expanded to a great round hole some six feet wide and equally as deep. Glora let herself down, peered anxiously beneath her, and dropped. Alan and I followed. We jammed the pit; but as we stood there, the walls were receding and lifting.
I had remarked Glora's downward glance, and shuddered. Suppose, in some slightly smaller size, Babs had been here among these rocks!
The pit widened steadily. The movement was far swifter now. We stood presently in a great circular valley. It seemed fully a mile in diameter, with huge encircling walls like a crater rim towering thousands of feet into the air. We ran along the base of one expanding wall, following Glora.
I noticed now that overhead the turgid murk had turned into the blue of distance. A sky. It was faintly sky-blue, and there seemed a haze in it, almost as though clouds were forming. It had been cold when we started. The exertion had kept us fairly comfortable; but now I realized that the air was far warmer. It was a different air, more humid, and I thought the smell of moist earth was in it. Rocks and boulders were strewn here on the floor of this giant valley, and I saw occasional pools of water. There had been rain recently!
The realization came with a shock of surprise. This was a new world! A faint, luminous twilight was around us. And then I noticed that the light was not altogether coming from overhead. It seemed inherent to the rocks themselves. They glowed very faintly luminous, as though phosphorescent.
We were now well embarked upon this strange journey. We spoke seldom. Glora was intent upon guiding us. She was trying to make the best possible speed. I realized that it was a case of judgment, as well as physical haste. We had dropped into that six-foot pit. Had we waited a few moments longer, the depth would have been a hundred feet, two hundred, a thousand! It would have involved hours of arduous descent—if we had lingered until we were a trifle smaller!
* * * * *
We took other pellets. We traveled perhaps an hour more. There were many instances of Glora's skill. We squeezed into a gully and waited until it widened; we leaped little expanding caverns; we slid down a smooth yellowish slide of rock like a child's toboggan, and saw it behind and over us, rising to become a great spreading ramp extending upward into the blue of the sky. Now, up there, little sailing white clouds were visible. And down where we stood it was deep twilight, queerly silvery with the phosphorescence from the luminous rocks as though some hidden moon were shining.
Strange, new world! I suddenly envisaged the full strangeness of it. Around me were spreading miles of barren, naked landscape. I gazed off to where, across the rugged plateau we were traversing, there was a range of hills. Behind and above them were mountains; serrated tiers, higher and more distant. An infinite spread of landscape! And, as we dwindled, still other vast reaches opened before us. I gazed overhead. Was it—compared to my stature now—a thousand miles, perhaps even a million miles up to where we had been two or three hours ago? I think so.
Then suddenly I caught the other viewpoint. This was all only an inch of golden quartz—if one were large enough to see it that way!
Alan had been trying to memorize the main topographical features of our route. It was not as difficult as it seemed at first. We were always far larger than normal to our environment. The main distinguishing characteristics of the landscape were obvious—the blind gully, with the round pit, for instance, or the ramp-slide.
We had been traveling some three or four hours when Glora suggested a rest. We were at the side-wall of a broad canyon. The wall towered several hundred feet above us; but a few moments before we had jumped down it with a single leap!
* * * * *
The drug we had last taken had ceased its action. We sat down to rest. It was a wild, mountainous scene around us, deep with luminous gloom. We could barely see across the canyon to its distant cliff-wall. The wall beside us had been smooth, but now it was broken and ridged. There were ravines in it, and dark holes like cave-mouths. One was near us. Alan gazed at it apprehensively.
"I say, Glora. I don't like sitting here."
I had been telling her all we knew of Polter. She listened quietly, seldom interrupting me. Then she said:
"I understand. I tell you now about Polter as I have seen him."
She talked for five or ten minutes. I listened amazed, awed by what she told.
But Alan suddenly interrupted her. "I say, let's move away from here. That tunnel-mouth, or cave, whatever it is—"
"But we go in there," she protested. "A little tunnel. That is our way to travel. We are not far from my city now."
Perhaps Alan felt what a generation ago they called a hunch, a premonition, the presage of evil which I think comes strangely to us more often than we realize. Whatever it was, we had no time to act upon it. The tunnel-mouth which had caused Alan's apprehension was about a hundred feet away. It was a ten-foot, black yawning hole in the cliff. Perhaps Alan sensed a movement off there. As I turned to gaze, from the opening came a great hairy human arm! Then a shoulder! A head!
The giant figure of a man came squeezing through the hole on his hands and knees! He gathered himself, and as he stood erect, I saw that he was growing in size! Already he was twenty feet tall compared to us—a thick-set fellow, dressed in leather garments, his legs and bare arms heavily matted with black hair. He stood swaying, gazing around him. I stared up at his round bullet head, his villainous face.
He saw us! Stupid amazement struck him, then comprehension.
He let out a roar and came at us!
The Message from Polter
Glora shouted, "Into the tunnel! This way!" She held her wits and darted to one side, with Alan and me after her. We ran through a narrow passage between two fifty-foot boulders which lay close together. Momentarily the giant was out of sight, but we could hear his heavy tread and his panting breath. We emerged; had passed him. He was taller now. He seemed confused at our sudden scampering activity. He checked his forward rush, and ran around the twin boulders. But we had squeezed into a narrow ravine. He could not follow. He threw a rock: to us it was a boulder. It crashed behind us. To him, we were like scampering insects; he could not tell which way we were about to dart.
Alan panted, "Glora, this—does this lead out?"
The little ravine seemed to open fifty feet ahead of us. Alan stopped, seized a chunk of rock, flung it up. I saw the giant's face above us. He was kneeling, trying to reach in. The rock hit him in the forehead—a pebble, but it stung him. His face rose away.
Again we emerged. The tunnel-mouth was near us. We reached it and flung ourselves into its ten-foot width just as the giant came lunging up. He was far larger than before. Looking back, I could see only the lower part of his legs blocked against the outer light.
"Glora! Alan, where are you?"
For a moment I did not see them. It was darker in this tunnel; broken rocky walls, a jagged arching roof ten feet high. Then I heard Alan's voice.
They came running to me. For a moment we stood, undecided what to do. My eyes were growing accustomed to the darkness; it was illumined by a dim phosphorescence from the rocks. I saw Alan fumbling for his vials, but Glora stopped him.
"No! We are the right size."
* * * * *
We were a hundred feet back from the opening. The giant's legs disappeared. But in a moment the round light hole of the exit was obscured again. His head and shoulders! He was lying prone. His great arms came in. He hitched forward. The width of his expanding shoulders wedged.
I think that he expected to reach us with a single snatch of his tremendous arms. Or perhaps he was confused, and forgot his growth. He did not reach us. His shoulders stuck. Then suddenly he was trying to back out, but could not!
It was only a moment. We stood in the radiant gloom of the tunnel, clinging to each other, ourselves stricken by confusion. The giant's voice roared, reverberating around us. Anger. A note of fear. Finally stark terror. He heaved, but the rocks of the opening held solid. Then there was a crack, a gruesome rattling, splintering—his shoulder bones breaking. His whole gigantic body gave a last convulsive lunge, and he emitted a deafening shrill scream of agony.
I was aware of the tunnel-mouth breaking upward. Falling rocks—an avalanche, a cataclysm around us. Then light overhead.
The giant's crushed body lay motionless. A pile of boulders, rocks and loose metallic earth was strewn upon his head and torso, illumined by the outer light through a jagged rent where the cliff-face had fallen down.
We were unhurt, crouching back from the avalanche. The giant's mangled body was still expanding; shoving at the litter of loose rocks. In a moment it would again be too large for the broken cliff opening.
I found my wits. "Alan! Out of here—God! Don't you see—"
* * * * *
But Glora held us. The drug the giant had taken was about at its end, and Glora recognized it. The growth presently stopped. That huge, noisome mass of pulp which once had been human shoulders—
I shoved Glora away. "Don't look!" I was shaking; my head was reeling. Alan's face, painted by the phosphorescence, was ghastly.
Glora pulled at us. "This way! The tunnel is not too long. We go."
But the giant had drugs. And perhaps weapons. "Wait!" I urged. "You two wait here. I'll climb over him."
I told them why, and ran. I can only leave to the imagination that brief exploratory climb. The broken body seemed at least a hundred feet long; the mangled shoulders and chest filled the great torn hole in the cliff. I climbed over the litter. Indescribable, horrible scene! A river of warm blood was flowing down the declivity outside....
I came back to Glora and Alan. Under my arm was a huge cylinder vial. It was black—the enlarging drug. I set it down. They stared at me in my blood-stained garments.
"His blood, not mine, Alan." I tried to smile. "There's the drug he carried. Evidently Polter was only sending him out. Just the one drug."
"What'll we do with it?" Alan demanded. "Look at the size of it!"
"Destroy it," said Glora. "See, that is not difficult." She tugged at the huge stopper, and exposed a few of the pellets—to us as large as apples. "The air will soon spoil it."
We left it in the tunnel. I had brought a great roll of paper; had found it folded in the giant's belt, with the drug cylinder. We unrolled it, and hauled its folds to a spread some ten feet long. It was covered with a scrawled handwriting in pencil, but its giant characters seemed thick blurred strokes of charcoal. We could not read it; we were too close. Alan and Glora held it up against the tunnel wall. From a distance I could make it out. It was a note written in English, signed "Polter," evidently to one of his men.
I read it:
"The two men prisoners, kill them at once. That is better. It will be too dangerous to wait for my return. Put their bodies with their airplane. Crash it a mile or more from our gate."
Full directions for our death followed. And Polter said he would return by dawn or soon after.
* * * * *
It gave me a start. By dawn! We had been traveling four or five hours. The dawn was up there now!
"No," said Glora. She and Alan cast away the paper. "No, the time in here is different. A different time-rate. I do not know how much difference. My world speeds faster; yours is very slow. It is not the dawn up there quite yet."
Again my mind strove to encompass these things so strange. A faster time-rate prevailed in here? Then our lives were passing more quickly. We were living, experiencing things, compressed into a shorter interval. It was not apparent; there was nothing to which comparison could be made. I recalled Alan's description of Polter—not thirty years old as he should have been, but nearer fifty. I could understand that, now. A day in here—while our gigantic world outside might only have progressed a few hours.
We walked the length of the tunnel. I suppose it was a quarter of a mile, to us in this size. It wound through the cliff with a steady downward slope. And suddenly I realized that we had turned downward nearly half the diameter of a circle! We had turned over—or at least it seemed so. But the gravity was the same. I had noticed from the beginning very little change.
The realization of this turning brought a mental confusion. I lost all sense of direction. The outer world of Earth was under my feet, instead of overhead. Then we went level. I forgot the confusion; this was normality here. We turned upward a little. Cross tunnels intersected ours at intervals. I saw caverns, open, widened tunnels, as though this mountain were honeycombed.
"Look!" said Glora. "There is the way out. All these passages lead the same way."
* * * * *
There was a glow of light ahead. I recall that I was at that moment fumbling at my belt in two small compartments of which I was carrying the two vials of the drugs which Glora had given me. Alan wore the same sort of belt. We had found them in the wrecked dome-room. I heard a click on the ground at my feet. I was about to stoop to see what I had kicked—only a loose stone, perhaps—but Glora's words distracted me. I did not stoop. If only I had, how different events might have been!
The glow of light ahead of us widened as we approached, and presently we stood at the end of the tunnel. A spread of open distance was outside. We were on a ledge of a rocky, precipitous wall some fifty feet above a wide level landscape. Vegetation! I saw trees—a forest off to the left. A range of naked hills lay behind it. A mile away, in front and to the right, a little town nestled on the shore of shining water. There was starlight on the water! And over it a vast blue-purple sky was studded with stars!
I gazed, with that first sudden shock of emotion, into illimitable depths of interplanetary space! Light years of distance. Gigantic worlds, blazing suns off there shrunken by distance now to little points of light. A universe was here!
But this was an inch of golden quartz!
Above my head were stars which, compared to my bodily size now, were vast worlds ten thousand light-years away! Yet, from the other viewpoint, I had only descended perhaps an eighth or a quarter of an inch beneath the broken pitted surface of a little fragment of golden quartz the size of a walnut—into just one of its myriads of golden atoms!
The Girl in the Golden Cage
"My world," Glora was saying. "You like it? See the starlight on the lake? I have heard that your world looks like this at night, in summer. Ours is always like this. No day, no night. Just like this—starlight." Her hand went to Alan's shoulder. "You like it? My world?"
"Yes. Yes, Glora, It's beautiful."
There seemed a sheen on everything, a soft, glowing sheen of phosphorescence from the rocks rising to meet the pale wan starlight. The night air was soft, with a gentle breeze that rippled the distant lake into a great spread of gold and silver light.
The city was called Orena. I saw at once that we were about normal size to its houses and people. There were fields beneath our ledge, with farm implements lying in them; no workers, for this was the time for sleep. Ribbons of roads wound over the country, pale streamers in the starlight.
Glora gestured. "The giants are on their island. Everyone sleeps now. You see the island off there?"
Beyond the city, over the low stone roofs of its flat-topped dwellings, the silver spread of lake showed a green-clad island some three miles off shore. The distance made its white stone houses seem small. But as I gazed, I realized that they were large to their environment, all far larger than those of the little town. The island was perhaps a mile in length. Between it and the mainland a boat was coming toward us. It was a dark blob of hull on the shining water, and above it a queerly shaped circular sail was puffed out like a balloon-parachute by the wind.
* * * * *
"The giants live, there?" said Alan.
"You mean Polter's men?"
"And women. Yes."
"Are there many giants?"
"How many?" I put in. "How large are they? In relation to us now, I mean. And to your normal size?"
I turned to Alan. "Polter and Babs must be down there now! They must have arrived only recently. But we must determine what size to be before we go any further. We can't be gigantic If he sees us—if we assailed him—well, he'd kill Babs. We're got to plan. Glora tell us—"
"You ask so many questions so fast, George. There are two hundred or more of the giants. And there are more than that many thousands of our people here. Slaves, because the giants are four times as large. This little city, these fields, these hills of stone and metal, all this was ours to have in peace and happiness—until your Polter came. And that starlight on the water—"
She gestured. "Everywhere is a great reach of desert and forests. Insects, but there are no wild beasts—nothing to harm us. Nature is kind here. The weather is always like this. We were happy—until Polter came."
"And only a few thousand people," Alan said. "No other cities?"
"What lies off in the great distance we do not know. Our nation is ten times what is here. A few other cities, though some of our people live in the forests—"
She broke off. "That boat is coming for Polter. He is in the city, no doubt of that. The boat will take him and that girl you call Babs to the giant's island. His castle is there."
* * * * *
If we could get on that boat and go with him to the island—! But in what size? Very small? But then, if we were very small it would take us hours to get from here to the boat. Glora pointed out where it would land—just beyond the village where the houses were set in a sparse fringe. It would be there, apparently, in ten or fifteen minutes. Polter was probably there now with Babs, waiting for it.
In our present size we could not get there in time. It was two or three miles at least. But a trifle larger—the size of one of Polter's giants—would enable us to make it. We would be seen, but in the pale starlight, keeping away from the city as much as possible, we might only be mistaken for Polter's people. And when we got closer we would diminish our size, creep into the boat, get near Babs and Polter and then plan what to do.
Futile plans! All of life is so futile, so wind-swept upon the tossing sea of chance!
We climbed down from the ledge and stood at the base of the towering cliff which reared its jagged wall against the stars. A field and a road were near us. The road seemed of normal size. A man was across the field. He did not seem to notice us. He was apparently about my height. He presently discarded his work, went away from us and vanished.
"Hurry, Glora." Alan and I stood beside her while she took pellets from her vials. It needed a careful adjustment. We wanted our stature now to be four times what it was. Glora gave us pellets of both drugs, one of which was slightly more intense than the other.
"Polter made them this way," she said. "The two at once gives just the growth to take us from this normal size to the stature of the giants."
Alan and I did not touch our own vials. We had used none of our enlarging drug upon the journey; the supply she had given us of the other was nearly gone.
* * * * *
As I took these pellets which Glora now gave us, standing there by the side of that road, I recall that I was struck with the realization that never once upon this journey had I conceived myself to be other than normal stature. I am normally about six feet tall. I still felt—there in that golden atom—the same height. This landscape seemed of normal size. There were trees nearby—spreading, fantastic looking growths with great strings of pods hanging from them. But still, as I looked up to see one arching over me with its blue-brown leaves and an air-vine carrying vivid yellow blossoms—whatever the size of the tree, my consciousness could only conceive myself as of a normal six-foot stature standing beneath it. The human ego always is supreme! Around each man's consciousness of himself the entire universe revolves!
We crouched on the ground when this growth now began; it would not do to be observed changing size. Polter's giants never did that. Years before, he had made them large—his few hundred men and women. They were, Glora said, people both of this realm and from our great world above—dissolute, criminal characters who now had set themselves up here as the nucleus of a ruling race.
In a moment now, we were the size of these giants. Twenty to twenty-five feet tall, in relation to this environment. But I did not feel so. As I stood up—still myself in normal stature—I saw around me a shrunken little landscape. The trees, as though in a Japanese garden, were about my own height; the road was a smooth level path: the little field near us a toy fence around it. In another road across it, the man was walking. In height he would barely have reached my knees. He saw us rise beside the trees. He darted off his road in alarm, and disappeared.
* * * * *
I have taken longer to tell all this than the actual time which passed. We could see the boat coming from the island, and it was still a fair distance off shore. We ran along the road, skirting the edge of the little town. Its houses were none of them taller than ourselves. The windows and doorways were ovals into which we could only have inserted a head or an arm. They were most of them dark. Little people occasionally stared out, saw us run past, and ducked back, thankful that we did not stop to harass them.
"This way," said Glora. She ran like a fawn, hardly winded, with Alan and me heavily panting behind her. "There are trees—thick trees—quite near where the boat lands. We can get in them and hide and change our size to smallness. But hurry, for we will need so much time when we are small!"
The little spread of town and the shining lake remained always to our right. In five minutes we were past most of the houses. A patch of woods, with thick interlacing treetops about our own height, lay ahead. It extended a few hundred feet over to the lake shore. The sailboat was heading in close. There was a broad, starlit roadway at the edge of the lake, and a dock there at which the boat was preparing to land.
Would we be in time? I suddenly feared not. To get small now, with distance lengthening between us and the boat, would be disastrous. And where was Polter?
Abruptly we saw him. There had been only little people visible to us; none of our own height. The lake roadway by the dock was brightly starlit. As we approached the intervening patch of woods it seemed that a crowd of little people were near the dock. Polter must have been sitting. But now he rose up. We could not mistake his hunched thick figure, the lump on his shoulders clear in the starlight with the gleaming lake as a background. The crowd of little figures were milling around his knees. In the silence of the night the murmur of their voices floated over to us.
"There he is!" Alan gasped. We all three checked our running; we were at the edge of the patch of woods. "By God, there he is! Let's get larger! Rush him! Why that's only a few hundred feet over there!"
But Babs? Where was Babs?
"Alan! Down!" I crouched, pulling Alan and Glora with me. "Don't let him see us! He'd know at once—and where is Babs? Can't rush him, Alan. He'd see us coming—kill her—"
* * * * *
Of all the strange events which had been flung at us, I think this sudden crisis now most confused Alan and me. To get larger, or smaller? Which? Yet something must be done at once.
Glora said, "We can get through the woods best in this size. And not be seen—get closer to the landing."
We crouched so that the little treetops were always well over us. The patch of woods was dark. A soil of black loam was under us, a thick soft underbrush reached our knees, and lacy, flexible leaves and branches were at our shoulder height. We pushed them aside, forcing our way softly forward. It was not far. The little murmuring voices of the crowd grew louder.
Presently we were crouching at the other edge of the woods. I softly shoved the tree branches aside until we could all three get a clear view of the strange scene now directly before us.
And I saw a toy dock, at which a twenty-foot, barge-like open sailboat was landing; a narrow starlit roadway, crowded with a milling throng of people all no more than a foot and a half in height. The crowd milled almost to where we were crouching, unseen in the shrubbery.
Across the road by the dock. Polter stood with the crowd down around his knees. In height he seemed the old familiar Polter. Bareheaded, with his shaggy black hair shot with white. He was dressed in Earth fashion: narrow black evening trousers and a white shirt and collar with flowing black tie. I saw at once what Alan had noticed—the change in him. An abnormality of age. I would have called him now forty, or older. Beyond even that there was an abnormality. A man old before his time; or younger than he should have been for the years he had lived. An indescribable mingling of something. The mingling, of the two worlds, perhaps. It marked him with a look at once unnatural and sinister.
These were instant impressions. Glora was plucking at me. "On the white chest of his shirt, something is there."
* * * * *
Polter was coatless, with snowy white shirt and cuffs to his thick wrists. He was no more than fifty feet from us. On his shirt bosom something golden in color was hanging like a large bauble, an ornament, an insignia. It was strapped tightly there with a band about his chest, a cord like a necklace chain up to his thick hunched neck, and other chains down to his belt.
I stared at it. An ornament, like a cube held flat against his shirt-front—a little golden cube, ornate with tiny bars.
I heard Alan murmuring, "A cage! Why George, it's—"
And then, simultaneously, realization struck me. It was a golden cage strapped there. And I seemed to see that there was something in it. A tiny figure? Babs!
"I think he has her there," Glora murmured. "You see the little box with bars? The girl Babs, a prisoner in there." She spoke swiftly, vehemently. "He will take the boat to the island."
She suddenly gripped us. "You think really it best to go? I do what you say. I had the wish to get to my father with these drugs."
"No!" exclaimed Alan. "We must keep close to Polter!"
We were ready with our pellets. But a sudden activity in the road made us pause. The crowd of little people were hostile to Polter. A sullen hostility. They milled about him as he stood there, gazing down at then sardonically.
And abruptly he shouted at them in English. "You speak my language, some of you. Then listen."
The crowd fell silent.
"Listen. This iss your future Queen. Can you see her? She iss small now. But she has the magic power. Soon, she will be large. Like me."
The crowd was shouting again. It surged forward, but it lacked a leader, and those in advance shoved backward in fear.
Polter spoke again. "This girl from my world, you will like her. She iss kind and very beautiful. When she iss large, you will see how beautiful."
A little stone suddenly came up from the throng of little people and struck Polter on the shoulder. Then another. The crowd, emboldened, made a rush; surged against his legs.
He shouted, "You do that? Why how dare you? I show to you what giants do when you make dem angry!"
From down by his knees he plucked the small figure of a man. The crowd scattered with shouts of terror. Polter had the struggling eighteen-inch figure by the wrist. He whirled it around his head like a nine-pin and flung it over the canopy of the dock far out into the shimmering lake!
Within the Golden Cage
The trees around us expanded to towering forest giants. The underbrush rose up over our heads. We had taken only a taste of the diminishing drug; Glora showed us how to touch it to our tongue several times, to adjust our size as we became smaller. It was no more than a minute of diminishing. We could hear the roar of the crowd, and Polter's voice shouting. We ran forward through the great forest. It was a fair distance out to the starlit road. We saw it as a wide shining esplanade. The people now were giants twice our height! Polter, himself towering with a seeming fifty foot stature, was standing by the gigantic canopy of the dock. He had dispersed the crowd. There was an open space on the esplanade—a run for us of about a hundred feet.
"We've got to chance it!" I murmured. "Make a run of it—now."
We darted across. In the confusion, with all eyes centered on Polter, we escaped discovery. It was dim under the dock canopy. Polter had backed from the road and was walking to the barge. It lay like the length of an ocean liner, its sail looming an enormous spread above it. The gunwale was level with the dock-floor. A dozen or more fifty-foot men were greeting Polter. They were amidships.
I realize now that in those moments as we scurried aboard like wharf rats, we took wild chances. We made for the stern which momentarily was unoccupied. To Polter and his men we were eight or nine inches tall. We dropped over the gunwale, slid down the convex thirty or forty-foot incline of the interior and landed on the bottom of the boat.
There were many places where we could safely hide. A litter of gigantic rope-strands was around us. We could see the bottom of a cross-bench looming overhead, and the great curving sides of the vessel with the gunwales outlined against the starlight.
* * * * *
The boat left the dock in a moment; the sail bellied out enormous over us. Ten feet forward from us the towering figure of a man sat on a bench with the steering mechanism before him. Further on, the other men were dispersed, with one or two in the distant bow. Polter reclined on a cushioned couch amidships. Looking along the dark widely level bottom of the boat there were only the feet and legs of the men visible.
Alan whispered, "Let's get closer."
We were insects soundlessly scuttling unnoticed in the dimness. And it was noisy down here—the clank of the steering mechanism; the swish, and surge of the water against the hull; the voices of the men.
We passed the boots of the seated helmsmen, and found another hiding place nearer Polter. We could see his giant length plainly. None of the other men were near him. He was reclining on an elbow, stretched at ease on the cushion. And at the moment, he was fumbling with the chains that fastened the little golden cage to his chest. The cage was double its former size to us now. A shaft of pale light came down, reflected from the great sail surface overhead. It struck the bars of the cage. We could see a small figure in there.
Then we heard Polter's voice. "I will let you out, Babs. You come out, sit on my hand and talk with me. That will be nice? We haf a little time."
He unfastened the cage and put it on the cushion beside him. He was still propped up on one elbow.
"I let you out, now. Be careful, Babs."
My heart was almost smothering me. "Alan! We've got to get still closer! Try something! Get large, shall we?"
Alan whispered tensely, "I don't know! Oh, I don't know what to do! This thing—"
This thing so strange.
"We can get closer," Glora whispered. "But never larger—not here. They would discover us too soon."
* * * * *
We crept forward. We reached the edge of the cushion. Its top surface was a trifle lower than our heads—a billowing, wrinkled mass of fabric. But I saw that the folds of it were rough enough to afford a foothold. I thought that I could climb it. We stood erect. There was a deep shadow along here, but it was brighter on the cushion top. We could see over its edge; an undulating spread of surface with the giant length of Polter stretched there. The cage was nearer to us. Polter's great fingers fumbled with it; a door in the lattice bars flipped open.
"Careful, my Babs!" His voice was a throaty, rumbling roar from above us. "Careful! I do not want you to be hurt."
From the little doorway came the figure of Babs! The starlight glowed on her long blue dress; her black hair was tumbling over her shoulders; her face was pale, but she was unhurt.
Babs! I think that I had never loved her so much as at that moment. Nor ever seen her so beautiful as in that miniature, standing at the door of her golden cage, bravely facing the monstrous misshapen figure of her captor.
We heard her small voice.
"What do you want me to do?"
"Stand quiet. Now I put my hand for you."
His monstrous hand bristled with a thatch of heavy black hair. He brought it carefully sliding along the cushion. Babs was barely the length of one of its finger joints. She climbed upon its palm.
"That iss right, Babs. Now I bring you—hold tight to my finger. Here, I crook the little one. Fling your arms around it."
With a swoop his hand took her aloft and away. Then we saw her, twenty feet or so in the air, still on his hand as he held it near his face.
"Now we haf a little talk, Babs. When we get to the island, I put you back in your cage."
* * * * *
I had a sudden flash of realization. Something I could do. I did not plan it. I know now my judgment was bad. I recall it struck me that Alan would want to do it also. And, perhaps, even Glora. That would not work. My chances, however desperate, were better alone. And Glora and Alan—in our present size-could doubtless disembark safely. Glora knew the lay-out of the island. She could follow Polter.
Alan and Glora were standing beside me, peering over that billowing cushion spread toward the distant giant palm with Babs standing upon it. I gripped Alan's shoulder.
"See here, Alan," I whispered vehemently, "whatever happens, we must follow Polter. Glora knows the way. Some chance will come. What we want is an opportunity to get large without discovery. Then rush Polter!"
Alan's white face turned to me. "Yes, that's what we're planning. But George, here on this boat—"
"Of course. Can't do it here. Tell Glora, be sure and follow Polter. Whatever happens, you think of nothing else: you won't, will you?"
"We've got to make some opportunity." I was trembling inside, fearful that Alan would be suspicious of me. Yet I had to make sure that he and Glora would stay as close to Polter as possible.
"Yes," Alan agreed. "Listen to them."
Polter was talking to Babs. But I did not hear the words. I moved a trifle away. Rash decision! I hardly decided anything. There was only the vision of Babs before me; my love for her. And my desperate need of doing something; getting to her; seeing her, being with her; having her near my own size again as though the blessed normality of that would rationalize and lessen her danger. If only I had been less rash! If only back there in that tunnel I had stopped to see what it was my foot kicked against!
* * * * *
I slid away. Alan and Glora did not notice it; they were whispering together and gazing over the cushion at Babs. In the floor shadow I moved some ten feet. On the undulating top of the cushion the little golden cage stood with its lattice door open! It was only a few feet from my face.
I fumbled at my belt for the diminishing vial. I found one pellet left. Well, that would be enough. I was hurried. Alan might discover me. Polter might move; put Babs back in the cage and close its door. We might be near the island already, and the confusion, the activity of disembarking would defeat me. A thousand things might happen.
I touched the pellet to my tongue. In a few seconds the drug action had come and passed. The cushion top loomed well over my head. The side was a ridged, indescribably unnatural vista of cliff-wall. The fabric was coarse with hairy strands, dented into little ravines and crevices. I climbed. I came panting to the pillow surface. The golden cage was six or eight feet away and was now two feet high.
Again I touched the drug to my tongue; held it an instant. The cage drew away; grew to a normal six-foot height; then larger, until in a moment it stopped. I stood peering at it, trying to gauge its size in relation to me. I wanted so intensely now to be normal to Babs. The cage seemed about ten feet high. A little less, possibly. I barely tasted the pellet, and replaced it carefully in the vial. I could only hope its efficacy would be preserved.
I had to chance that I would not be seen now crossing this billowy expanse. I ran. The rope strands of the fabric now had spaces between their curving surfaces. The cage was a shining golden house, set on this wide rolling area. Far in the distance there was a blur—Polter's reclining body.
I reached the cage. It was a room about ten feet square and equally as high. Walled solid, top and bottom, and on three sides. The front was a lattice of bars, with a narrow six-foot-high doorway, standing open now.
I dashed in. The interior was not wholly bare. There was a metal-wrought couch fastened to the wall, with a railing around it and handles. It suggested a ship's bunk. There was a railing at convenient height all around the wall.
I sought a hiding place. I saw just one—under the couch. It was secluded enough. There was a grille-like lattice extending down from the seat to the floor. I squeezed under one end, and lay wedged behind the grille.
* * * * *
How much time passed I do not know. My thoughts were racing. Babs would be coming.
I heard the distant approaching rumble of Polter's voice. Through the grille I could see across the floor of the ten-foot cage to the front lattice bars. Outside, there appeared a huge, pink-white, mottled blob—Polter's hand, a ridged and pitted surface with great bristling black stalks of hair.
The figure of Babs came through the cage doorway. Blessed normality! The same slim little Babs who always stood, since we were both matured, with her head about level with my shoulders.
The latticed door swung shut with a reverberating metallic clank. Babs stood tense, clinging to the wall railing. I heard the blurred rumble of Polter's voice.
"Hold tightly, my little Babs!"
The room lurched; went upward and sidewise with a wild dizzying swoop. Babs clung; and I was wedged prone under the couch. Then the movement stopped; there was a jolting, rocking, and outside I heard the clank of metal. Polter was fastening the chains of the cage to his chest.
A white reflected glow now came through the bars. It was starlight reflected from Polter's shirt bosom. An abyss of distance was outside. I could see nothing but the white glow.
Momentarily there was very little movement to the room. Only the rhythmic sway of Polter's breathing and an occasional jolt as he shifted his position. The floor was tilted at a sharp angle. Babs came toward the couch, pulling herself along the wall railing.
I called softly, "Babs! Babs, dear!"
She stopped. I called again, "Babs! Don't cry out! It's George! Here—stand still!"
She gave a little cry. "George—where are you? I don't—"
I slid out from my concealment and stood up, holding to the railing.
Blessed normality of size! She cried again, "George! You! George, dear—"
She edged along the railing, a step or two down the tilting floor, then released her hold and flung herself into my waiting arms.
* * * * *
"I think we are landing. Hold the railing, George. When the room moves it goes with a rush."
Babs laughed softly. It must have seemed to her, after being alone in here, that now our plight was far less desperate. She had told me how she was captured. A man accosted her on the terrace, saying he wanted to speak to her about Alan. Then a weapon threatened her. Amid all those people she was held up in old fashioned style, hurried to a taxicar and whirled away.
She was saying now, "When Polter moves, it is dizzying. You'll see."
"I have already, Babs. Heavens, that swoop!"
The room was more level now. We carefully drew ourselves to the front lattice. Polter was standing, and we had the white sheen from his shirt-front. A sheer drop was outside the bars, but looking down I could see the outlines of his body with the huge spread of the boat interior underneath us.
A confusion of rumbling voices sounded. Blurred giant shapes were outside. The room jolted and swayed as the boat landed and Polter disembarked.
Babs stood clinging to me. Blessed normality of size! We, at least, were normal—this metal barred room, Babs and I. But outside was the abnormality of largeness. I think that in relation to us, the men were of over two hundred foot stature, and the hunched Polter a trifle less. It seemed as he walked that we were lurching at least a hundred and fifty feet above the ground.
"You had better hide," Babs urged. "He might stop and speak to someone. If anyone peered in here you would be seen: no chance then, even to get across the room."
* * * * *
It was true. But for a few moments I lingered, though I could distinguish vegetation on their flat roof-tops, as though flower-gardens were laid there.
We passed a house with its hundred-foot oval windows all aglow with light. Music floated out—a distant blare of musical sounds, and the ribald laughter of giant voices. I had seen no women among these giants of the islands. But now a huge face was at one of the ovals. A dissolute, painted woman of Earth, staring out at Polter as he passed. It was like the enormous close-up image on a large motion picture screen. She shouted a ribald jest as he went by.
"George, please go back. Suppose she had seen you?"
We were ascending a hill. A distance ahead a great oblong building loomed like a giant's palace, which indeed it was. We headed for it, passed through a vast arching doorway into the greater dimness of an echoing interior. I scurried back across the lurching room and again wedged myself under the couch. Babs stood at the lattice ten feet away. We dared to talk in low tones; the rumbling voices and footsteps outside would make our tiny voices inaudible to Polter.
I was tense with my plans. I had told them to Babs. With the one partially used remaining pellet of the diminishing drug we could make ourselves small enough to walk out through the bars. Then my black vial of the enlarging chemicals, as yet unused, would take us up, out to our own world. We could not use the drugs now. But the chance might come when Polter would set the cage on the ground, or somewhere so that we might climb down from it, with a chance to hide and get large before we were discovered. I would fight our way upward; all I needed was a fair start in size.
* * * * *
But I lay now with doubts assailing me. This was the first moment I had had for calm thoughts, though in truth they were far from calm! Where were Alan and Glora? Following us now? I could only hope so. Once out of this, Babs and I would have to rejoin them. But how? A panic swept me. I should not have left them. Or at least I should have told them what I was trying, and given Alan a chance to plan.
The panic grew upon me, the premonition of disaster. From my belt I took the opalescent vial with its one partly used pellet. I dumped the pellet out. It was spoiling! The former exposure of the air, the moisture of my tongue, had ruined it! I had no need to guess at the catastrophe; as I held its crumbling, deliquescing fragments on my palm it melted into vapor and was gone!
We could not make ourselves smaller! We would have to wait now until Polter opened the cage. But once outside, the enlarging drug would give us our chance to fight our way upward. My trembling fingers sought the black vial in my belt. It was not there! My mind flung back: in that tunnel, something had dropped and I had kicked it! Accursed chance! My accursed, heedless stupidity!
I had lost the black vial! We were helpless! Caged! Marooned here in a size microscopic!
From a Drop of Water
I lay concealed, and Babs stood at the lattice of our cage room. I was aware that Polter had entered some vast apartment of this giant palace. A brighter light was outside; I heard voices—Polter's and another man's. I could see the distant monster shape of one. He was at first so far away that all his outline was visible. A seated man, in a huge white room. I thought there were great shelves with enormous bottles. The spread of table tops passed under our cage as Polter walked by them. They held a litter of apparatus, and there was the smell of chemicals in the air. It seemed that this was a laboratory.
The man stood up to greet Polter. I had a glimpse of his head and shoulders level with us. He wore a white linen coat, open, soft collar and black tie. He seemed an old man, queerly old, with snow-white hair....
I had an instant of whirling, confused impressions. Something was familiar about his face. It was seamed and wrinkled with lines of age and care. There were gentle blue eyes.
Then all I could see was the vast spread of his white shirt and coat, a black splotch of his tie outside our bars as Polter faced him.
Babs gave a low cry. "Why—why—dear God—"
And then I knew! And Polter's words were not needed, though I heard their rumble.
"I am back again, Kent. Are you still rebellious? You haf still determined to compound no more of our drugs? You would rather I killed you? Then see what I haf here. This little cage, someone—"
It was Dr. Kent, a prisoner here all these years!
Babs turned her white face toward me. "George, it's father! He's alive! Here!"
"Quiet, Babs! Don't let them know I'm here. Remember!"
The old man recognized her. "Babs!" It was an agonized cry. The blur of him was gone as he sank down into his chair.
Polter continued standing. I could envisage his sardonic grin. Babs was calling:
"Father, dear! Father!"
From over us came Polter's rumble. "She iss glad to see you, Kent. I haf her here, safe. You always knew I would nefer be satisfied until I had my little Babs? Well, now I haf her. Can you hear me?"
A sudden desperate calmness fell on Babs. She called evenly, "Yes, I hear you. Father, do not anger him. Do not rebel; do what he commands. Dr. Polter, will you let me be with my father? After all these years, let me be with him, just for a little while. In his size—normal."
"Hah! My Babs iss scheming."
"No! I want to talk to him, after so long. These years when I thought he was dead."
"Scheming. You think, my little Babs, that he has the drugs? I am not so much a fool. He makes them. He can do that, and the last secret reactions only he can perform. He iss stubborn. Never would he tell me that one reaction. But he makes no drugs complete, only when I am here."
"No, Dr. Polter! I want only to be with him."
The old man's broken voice floated up to us. "You will not harm her, Polter?"
"No. Fear nothing. But you no longer rebel?"
"I will do what you tell me." The tones carried hopeless resignation, years of being beaten down, rebelling—but now this last blow vanquished him. Then he spoke again, with a sudden strange fire.
"Even for the life of my daughter, I will not make your drugs, Polter, if you mean to harm our Earth."
The golden cage room swooped as Polter sat down. "Hah! Now we bargain. What do you care what I do to your world? You never will see it again. I can lie to you. My plans—"
"I do care."
"Well, I will tell you, Kent. I am good natured now. Why should I not be, with my dear little Babs? I tell you. I am done with the Earth world. It iss so much nicer here. My friends, they haf a good time always. We like this little atom realm. I am going out once more. I must hide the little piece of golden quartz so no harm will come to it."
* * * * *
Polter was evidently in a high good humor. His voice fell to an intimate tone of comradeship; but still I could not mistake the irony of it.
"You listen to me, Kent. There was a time, years ago, when we were good friends. You liked your young assistant, the hunchback Polter. Iss it not so? Then why should we quarrel now? I am gifing up the Earth world. I wanted of it only the little Babs.... You look at me so strange! You do not speak."
"There is nothing to say," retorted Dr. Kent wearily.
"Then you listen. I haf much gold above, in Quebec. You know that. So very simple to take it out of our atom, grow large with it, to what we call up there the size of a hundred feet. I haf a place, a room, secluded from prying eyes under a dome-roof. I become very tall, holding a piece of gold. It is large when I am a hundred feet tall. So I haf collected much gold. They think I own a mine. I haf a smelter and my gold quartz I make into ingots, refined to the standard purity. So simple, and I am a rich man.
"But gold does not bring happiness, my friend Kent." He chuckled ironically at his use of the platitude. "There is more in life than the ownership of gold. You ask my plans. I haf Babs, now. I am gifing up our Earth world. The mysterious man they know as Frank Rascor will vanish. I will hide our little fragment of quartz. No one up there will even try to find it. Then I come down here, with Babs, and we will haf so nice a little government and rule this world. No more of the drugs then will be needed, Kent. When you die, let the secret die with you."
Again Polter's voice turned ingratiating, even more so than before. "We will be friends, Kent. Our little Babs will lof me; why should she not? You will tell her—advise her—and we will all three be very happy."
Dr. Kent said abruptly, "Then leave her with me now. That was her request, a moment ago. If you expect to treat her kindly, then why not—"
"I do! I do! But not now. I cannot spare her now. I am very busy, but I must take her with me."
* * * * *
Babs had been silent, clinging to the bars of our cage. She called:
"Why? I ask you to put this cage down."
"Not now, little bird."
"And let me be with my father."
It struck a pang through me. Babs was scheming, but not the way Polter thought. She wanted the cage put on the floor, herself out, and a chance for me to escape. I had not yet told her of my miserable stupidity in losing the vial.
Polter was repeating. "No, little bird. Presently; not now. I may take you out with me, my last trip out. I want to talk with you in a normal size when I haf time."
Our room swooped as he stood up. "You think over what I haf said, Kent. You get ready now to make the fresh drugs I will need to bring down all my men from the outer world. They will all be glad to come, or, if not—well, we can easily kill those who refuse. You make the drugs. I need plenty. Will you?"
"That iss good. I come back soon and gif you the catalyst for that last reaction. Will you be ready?"
The blur outside our bars swung with a dizzying whirl as Polter turned and left the room, locking its door after him with a reverberating clank.
* * * * *
Left alone in his laboratory, Dr. Kent began his preparations for making a fresh supply of the drugs. This room, with two smaller ones adjoining, was at once his workshop and his prison. He stood at his shelves, selecting the basic chemicals. He could not complete the final compounds. The catalyst which was necessary to the final reaction would be brought to him by Polter.
How long he worked there with his thoughts in a whirl at seeing Babs, he did not know. His movements were automatic; he had done all this so many times before. His mind was confused, and he was trembling from head to foot, an old, queerly, unnaturally old man now—unnerved. His shaking fingers could hardly hold the test tubes.
His thoughts were flying. Babs was here, come down from the world above. It was disaster—the thing he had feared all these years.
He suddenly heard a voice.
And again: "Father!" A tiny voice, down by his shoe-tops. Two small figures were there on the floor beside him. They were both panting, winded by running. They were enlarging; they had come from a smaller size.
It was Alan and Glora, who had followed Polter from the boat, diminished again, and come running through the tiny crack under the metal door of the laboratory.
They grew to a foot in size, down by Dr. Kent's legs. He was too unnerved; he sat in a chair while Alan swiftly told him what had happened. Babs was in the golden cage. Dr. Kent knew that; but none of them knew what had happened to me.
"We must make you small, Father. We have the drugs, here with us."
"Yes! Yes, Alan. How much have you? Show me. Oh, my boy, that you are here—and Babs—"
"Don't you worry, we'll get away from him."
* * * * *
Glora and Alan had almost reached Dr. Kent's size before their excited fingers could get out the vials. They took some of the diminishing drug to check their growth. Alan handed his father a black vial.
"No! Wait, Father! That's the wrong drug. This other—"
Dr. Kent had opened the vial. His trembling hand spilled some of the pellets, but none of them noticed it.
"Father, dear, this one." Alan held an opalescent vial. "This one."
Glora said abruptly, "Listen! Is that someone coming?"
They thought they heard approaching footsteps. A moment passed, but no one came into the room.
"Hurry," urged Glora. "It is nothing. We wait too long."
"My boy—Alan, dear, after all these years—"
They were about to take the diminishing drug. From across the room there came a very queer sound. A scuttling, scratching, and the drone of wings.
"Father, good God—look!"
Over by the wall, a giant fly was running across the floor. It was growing larger!
At Dr. Kent's feet the pellets he had dropped were crushed by his footsteps and strewn on the floor. A fly had eaten of the sweetish powder.
The enlarging drug was loose!
A few drops of water lay mingled with the drug on the floor. And from the water nameless hideous things were rising!
The Doomed Realm
To Alan the first few moments that followed the escape of the drug were the most horrible of his life. The discovery struck old Dr. Kent, Glora and Alan into a numb, blank confusion. They stood transfixed, staring with cold terror. The fly was scurrying along the floor close against the wall Already it was as large as Alan's hand. It ran into the corner, hit the wall in its confused alarm, and turned back. Its wings were droning with an audible hum. It reared itself on its hairy legs, lifted and sailed across the room.
As though drawn by a magnet Alan turned to watch it. It landed on the wall. Alan was aware of Dr. Kent rushing with trembling steps to a shelf where bottles stood. Glora was stricken into immobility, the blood draining from her face.
The fly flew again. It passed directly over Alan. Its body, with a membrane sac of eggs, was now as large as his head; its wide-spread transparent wings were beating with a reverberating drone.
Alan flung a bottle which was on the table beside him. It missed, crashed against the ceiling, came down with splintering glass and spilling liquid. Fumes spread chokingly over the room.
The fly landed again on the floor. Larger now! Expanding with a horribly rapid growth. Glora flung something—a little wooden rack with a few empty test-tubes in it. The rack struck the monstrous fly, but did not hurt it. The fly stood with hairy legs braced under its bulging body. Its multiple-lensed eyes were staring at the humans. And with its size must have come a sense of power, for it seemed to Alan that the monstrous insect had an abnormal alertness as it stood measuring its adversaries, gathering itself to attack them.
Only a few seconds had passed. Confused thoughts swept Alan. This fly with its growth would soon fill this room. Burst it; burst upward through a wrecked palace; soar out, and by the power of its size alone, devastate this world.
He heard himself shouting. "Father, get back! It's too large! I've got to kill it!"
* * * * *
Launch himself upon it? Wrestle with it in a hand to hand combat? Alan edged around the center table. He was bathed in cold sweat. This thing so horrible! It was too large! Half the length of his own body, now. In a moment it might be twice that! He was aware of Glora pulling at him; and his father rushing past him with a bottle of liquid, and shouting:
"Alan! Run! You and this girl, get out of here! The other room—"
Then Alan saw the things upon the floor! His foot crushed one with a slippery squash! Nameless, hideous, noisome things grown monstrous, risen from their lurking invisibility in the drops of water! Sodden, gray-black and green-slimed monsters of the deep; palpitating masses of pulp! One lay rocking, already as large as a football with streamers of ooze hanging upon it, and a black-ink fluid squirting; others were rods of red jelly-pulp, already as large as lead pencils, quivering, twitching. Germs of disease, these ghastly things, enlarging from the invisibility of a drop of water!
The fly landed with a thud on the center table. The fumes of the shattered bottle of chemicals were choking Alan. He flung himself toward the monster fly, but Glora held him.
"No! Escape! The other room!"
Dr. Kent was stamping the things upon the floor; pouring acids upon them. Some eluded him. The air in the room was unbreathable....
They reached the bedroom. The laboratory was a hideous chaos. They were aware of its outer door opening, disclosing the figure of Polter who, undoubtedly, had been attracted by the noise. He shouted a startled oath. Alan heard it above the beating wings of the monster fly. Things lurched at the opened door; Polter banged it upon them and rushed away, shouting the alarm through the palace.
Dr. Kent was stammering, "Not the enlarging drug! Glora, child, the other! Hurry!"
Alan helped Glora with the opalescent vial. Things were lurching toward this room from the laboratory. Alan with averted face, choked by the incoming fumes, slammed the door upon the gruesome turmoil.
They took the diminishing drug. The bedroom expanded. The hideous sounds from the laboratory, and the whole palace now ringing with a wild alarm, then faded into the blessed remoteness of distance above them....
* * * * *
"I think it is this way, Alan. Off there—a doorway from my bedroom. Polter always kept it locked, but it leads into a corridor. We must get out of here. A crack under the door—is that it, off there?" Dr. Kent pointed into the gloomy blur of distance. "We are horribly small—it's so far to run—and I've lost my sense of direction."
The drug had ceased its action. The wooden floor of the room had expanded to a spread of cellular surface, ridged with broken, tube-like tunnels; pits and jagged cave-mouths. A knot-hole yawned like a crater a hundred feet away.
"We are too small," Gloria protested hurriedly. "The door is where you say, Dr. Kent, but miles away."
With the other drug, the room contracted. The floor-surface shrank and smoothed a little. The door was distinguishable—a square panel several hundred feet in width and towering into the upper haze. The black line of the crack was visible along its bottom.
They ran to it. The top of the crack was ten feet above their heads. They ran under, across the wide intervening darkness toward a glow of light. Then they came from under the door into a corridor—and shrank against a cliff-wall as with a rush of wind and pounding tread the blurred shapes of a man's huge feet and legs rushed passed. The upper air was filled with rumbling shouts.
"We must chance it!" exclaimed Dr. Kent. "Too dangerous, so small! Larger—and if they see us, fight our way out!"
In the turmoil of the doomed palace no one noticed them. They cast aside all restraint. It was too dangerous to wait. The excessive dose they took of the drug made the corridor shrink with dizzying speed. They rushed along its length. Alan hurled a little man aside who was in their path. Already they were larger than the Polter people.
* * * * *
They squeezed out of a shrinking doorway. The dwindling island was a turmoil. Little figures were plunging from the palace. At the edge of the water, Alan, Glora and Dr. Kent stood for an instant looking behind them. The palace was rocking! Its roof heaved upward then smashed and fell aside with the clatter of tumbling masonry. The monstrous fly, its hideous face mashed and oozing, reared itself up and, with broken, torn wings tried to soar away. But it could not. It slipped back. The drone and buzz of its fright sounded over the chaos of noise. Other things came lurching and twitching upward; slithering out....
The expanding body of the fly was pushing the palace walls outward. In a moment they collapsed and it emerged....
To Alan and his companions the scene was all shrinking into a miniature chaos of horror at their shoe-tops. A diminuendo of screams mingled down there. Overhead were the stars, shining peacefully remote. Nearby lay a rapidly narrowing channel of shining water. A tiny city was across it. Lights were moving. The panic had spread from the island to Orena. Beyond the tiny city, a range of mountains showed; a cliff, gleaming in the starlight; tunnel mouths.
Suddenly against the stars off there, Alan saw the enlarging figure of Polter, his hunched shape unmistakable. He was facing the other way. He lunged and scrambled into a yawning black hole in the mountains. Polter was escaping! None of these people except himself had the drugs. He was escaping with the golden cage, out of this doomed atomic world to our Earth above.
Glora murmured, "There is our way out. Your way. And that is Polter going. I think he did not see us. So much is growing gigantic here." She clung to Alan. "Dear one—"
Dr. Kent muttered, "We will wait a moment—wade across—or leap over, and follow him out. Babs with him—dear God I hope so! This doomed realm!"
* * * * *
Alan held Glora close. And suddenly he was laughing—a madness, half hysteria. "Why, this, all this—why look, Glora, it's funny! This little world all excited, an ant-hill, outraged! Look! There's our giant sailboat!"
Down near their feet the inch-long sailboat stood at its dock. Tiny human figures were rushing for it; others, floundering in the water, were trying to climb upon it. Dr. Kent had stepped from the shore a foot or two, and tiny, lashing white rollers rocked the boat, almost engulfing it.
Alan's laugh rang out, "God! It's funny, isn't it? All those little creatures, so excited!"
"Steady, lad!" Dr. Kent touched him. "Don't let yourself laugh! A moment now, then we'll wade across. Polter won't have much start on us. We mustn't get too close to him in size, but try and attack him unawares. We have got to get Babs away from him."
The narrowing passage rose hardly to their knees. They stepped ashore, well to one side of the toy city. Their growth had almost stopped. But suddenly Alan realized that Glora was diminishing! She had taken the other drug.
"I must go back, Alan. This is my world, doomed perhaps, but I cannot forsake it now. I must give the enlarging drug to my father. And others who can rise and fight these monsters."
Dr. Kent said hurriedly, "She's right, Alan. There is a chance they can save their city. For her to leave them would be dastardly."
She cried, "You go on up, Alan. You have enough of the drugs. Leave me, dear one—I am going back!"
"No!" he protested. "You must not! Or if you do, I'll come with you!"
She clung to him. He felt her body diminishing within his encircling arms. His love for her swept him—this girl who had cajoled Polter, or tricked him, stolen several of the little vials from him heaven knows how, and followed him up to the other world. This girl whom Alan now knew he loved, was leaving him. Forever?
* * * * *
As he stood there, with the miniature landscape at his feet in the wan starlight, the panic-stricken tiny city, the island with its monsters rising to overwhelm this microscopic world—it seemed to Alan then that if he let her go it was the end for him of all life's promised happiness.
"Alan, lad, come." His father was pulling at him. So horrible a choice! Alan thought that I was back on that island. But Babs, a prisoner in the golden cage, was with Polter, plunging upward in size. And his father was beside him, pleading.
"Alan—come—I can't get out alone. Nor save Babs. And the maddened Polter, with the power of this drug, can conquer and enslave our Earth as he has enslaved Orena—just one little city of one tiny golden atom! Believe me, lad, your duty lies above."
Glora's head was now down at Alan's waist. He stooped and kissed her white forehead; his fingers, just for an instant, smoothed her glossy hair.
"Dear one, good-by."
She plunged away, and her tread as she dwindled mashed the forest behind the city. Alan and his father ran for the cliff. They were too large to squeeze into the little hole. But in a moment they made themselves smaller. They climbed as they dwindled; checked the drug action and rushed into the tunnel-mouth.
Alan stopped just for an instant to gaze out over the starlit scene. It was almost the same viewpoint from which he had his first sight of Glora's world only an hour or two before. The distant island beyond the city showed plainly with the shining water around it. The vegetation there was growing! And there were dark, horribly formless blobs lurching outward and rising with monstrous bulk against the background of the stars!
"Alan! Come, lad!"
With a prayer for Glora trembling on his lips, Alan plunged into the dim phosphorescent gloom of the tunnel.
To Babs and me the ride in the golden cage strapped to Polter's chest as he made his escape outward into largeness was an experience awesome and frightening almost beyond conception. We heard the alarm in the palace on the island. Polter rushed to Dr. Kent's laboratory door, looked in, and in a moment banged it shut. Babs and I saw very little. We knew only that something horrible had happened; we could see only a blur with formless things in the void beneath our bars; and there were the choking fumes of chemicals surging at us.