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Astounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930
Author: Various
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A palace, McGuire concluded, when he saw clearly the many-storied pile. Like the buildings they had seen, this also constructed of opalescent quartz. There were windows that glowed warmly in the dusk. A sudden wave of loneliness, almost unbearable, swept over the man.

Windows and gleaming lights, the good sounds of Earth; home!... And his ears, as he stepped out into the cool air, were assailed with the strange cackle and calling of weird folk; the air brought him scents, from the open ground beyond, of fruits and vegetation like none he had ever known; and the earth, the homeland of his vain imaginings, was millions of empty miles away....

The leader stopped, and McGuire looked dispiritedly at the unfamiliar landscape under dusky lowering skies. Trees towered high in the air—trees grotesque and weird by all Earth standards—whose limbs were pale green shadows in the last light of day. The foliage, too, seemed bleached and drained of color, but among the leaves were flashes of brilliance where night-blooming flowers burst open like star-shells to fill the air with heavy scents.

Between the men and the forest growth was a row of denser vegetation, great ferns twenty feet and more in height, and among them at regular intervals stood plants of another growth—each a tremendous pod held in air on a thick stalk. Tendrils coiled themselves like giant springs beside each pod, tendrils as thick as a man's wrist. The great pods were ranged in a line that extended as far as McGuire could see in the dim light.

* * * * *

His shoulders drooped as the guard herded him and his companion toward the building beyond. He must not be cast down—he would not! Who knew how much of such feeling was read by these keen-eyed observers? And the only thought with which he could fill his mind, the one forlorn ghost of a hope that he could cling to, was that of an island, a volcanic peak that rose from dark waters to point upward toward the heights.

The guard of four was clustered about; the figures were waiting now in the gathering dark—waiting, while the one in scarlet listened and spoke alternately into a jeweled instrument that hung by a slender chain about his neck. He raised one lean hand to motion the stirring guards to silence, listened again intently into the instrument, then pointed that hand toward the cloud-filled sky, while he craned his thin neck to look above him.

The men's eyes followed the pointing hand to see only the sullen black of unlit clouds. The last distant aircraft had vanished from the skies; not a ship was in the air—only the enveloping blanket of high-flung vapor that blocked out all traces of the heavens. And then!—

The cloud banks high in the skies flashed suddenly to dazzling, rolling flame. The ground under their feet was shaken as by a distant earthquake, while, above, the terrible fire spread, a swift, flashing conflagration that ate up the masses of clouds.

"What in thunder—" McGuire began; then stopped as he caught, in the light from above, the reflection of fierce exultation in the eyes of the scarlet one. The evil, gloating message of those eyes needed no words to explain its meaning. That this cataclysm was self-made by these beings, McGuire knew, and he knew that in some way it meant menace to him and his.

Yet he groped in thought for some definite meaning. No menace could this be to himself personally, for he and Sykes stood there safe in the company of the councilor himself. Then the threat of this flaming blast must be directed toward the earth!

* * * * *

The fire vanished, and once more, as Professor Sykes had seen on that night so long ago, the blanket of clouds was broken. McGuire followed the gaze of the scientist whose keen eyes were probing in these brief moments into the depths of star-lit space.

"There—there!" Sykes exclaimed in awe-struck tones. His hand was pointing outward through the space where flames had cleared the sky. A star was shining in the heavens with a glory that surpassed all others. It outshone all neighboring stars, and it sent its light down through the vast empty reaches of space, a silent message to two humans, despondent and heartsick, who stared with aching eyes.

Lieutenant McGuire did not hear his friend's whispered words. No need to name that distant world—it was Earth! Earth!... And it was calling to its own....

There was a flying-field—so plain before his mental eyes; men in khaki and leather who moved and talked and spoke of familiar things ... and the thunder of motors ... and roaring planes....

Some far recess within his deeper self responded strangely. What now of threats and these brute-things that threatened?—he was one with this picture he had visioned. He was himself; he was a man of that distant world of men; they would show these vile things how men could meet menace—or death.... His shoulders were back and unconsciously he stood erect.

The scarlet figure was close beside them in the dusk, his voice vibrant with a quality which should have struck fear to his captives' hearts as he ordered them on. But the look in his crafty eyes changed to one of puzzled wonder at sight of the men.

Hands on each other's shoulders, they stood there in the gathering dark, where grotesque trees arched twistingly overhead. Their moment of depression had passed; Earth had called, and they had heard it, each after his own fashion. But to each the call had been one of clear courage. No longer cast off and forlorn, they were one with their own world.

"Down," said Professor Sykes with a whimsical smile; "down, but not out!" And the lieutenant responded in kind.

"Are we down-hearted?" he demanded loudly. And the two turned as one man to grin at the scarlet one as they thundered. "N-o-o!"

CHAPTER X

Two men grinned in derision at the horrible, man-shaped thing that held their destinies in his lean, inhuman hands!—but they turned abruptly away to look again above them where that bright star still shone through an opening in the clouds.

"The earth! Home!" It seemed as if they could never tear their eyes away from the sight.

Their captor whistled an order, and the guard of four tugged vainly at the two, who resisted that they might gaze upon their own world until the closing clouds should blot it from sight. A cry from one of the red guards roused them.

The dark was closing in fast, and their surroundings were dim. Vaguely, McGuire felt more than saw one of the red figures whirled into the air. He sensed a movement in the jungle darkness where were groves of weird trees and the tangle of huge vegetable growths. What it was he could not say, but he felt the guard who clutched at him quiver in terror.

Their leader snatched at the instrument that hung about his neck and put it to his lips; he whistled an order, sharp and shrill. Blazing light that seemed to flame in the air was the response; the air was aglow with an all-pervading brilliance like that in the car that had whirled them from the landing field. The light was everywhere, and the building before them was surrounded by a dazzling envelope of luminosity.

Whatever of motion or menace there had been ceased abruptly. Their guard, three now in number instead of four, seized them roughly and hustled them toward an open door. No time, as they passed, for more than fleeting impressions: a hall of warm, glowing light—a passage that branched off—and, at the end, a room into which they were thrown, while a metal door clanged behind them.

* * * * *

These were no gentle hands that hurled the men staggering through the doorway, and Professor Sykes fell headlong upon the glassy floor. He sprang to his feet, his face aflame with anger. "The miserable beasts!" he shouted.

"Take it easy," admonished the flyer. "We're in the hoose-gow; no use of getting all fussed up if they don't behave like perfect gentlemen.

"There's a bunk in the corner," he said, and pointed to a woven hammock that was covered with soft cloths; "and here's another that I can sling. Twin beds! What more do you want?"

He opened a door and the splash of falling water came to them. A fountain cascaded to the ceiling to fall splashing upon a floor of inlaid, glassy tile. McGuire whistled.

"Room and bath," he said. "And you complained of the service!"

"I have an idea," he told the scientist, "that our scarlet friend who owns this place intends to treat us decently, even though his helpers are a bit rough. My hunch is that he wants to get some information out of us. That old bird back there in the council chamber told me as plain as day that they think they are going to conquer the earth. Maybe that's why we are here—as exhibits A and B, for them to study and learn how to lick us."

"You are talking what I would have termed nonsense a month ago," replied Sykes, "but now—well, I am afraid you are right. And," he said slowly, "I fear that they are equally correct. They have conquered space; they have ships propelled by some unknown power; they have gas weapons, as you and I have reason to know. And they have all the beastly ferocity to carry such a plan through to success. But I wonder what that sky-splitting blast meant."

"Bombardment," the flyer told him; "bombardment of the earth as sure as you're alive."

"More nonsense," said Sykes; "and probably correct.... Well, what are we to do?—sit tight and give them as little information as we can? or—" His question ended unfinished; the alternative, it seemed, was not plain to him.

"There's only one answer," said McGuire. "We must get away; escape somehow."

* * * * *

Professor Sykes' eyes showed his appreciation of a spirit that could still dare to hope, but he asked dejectedly: "Escape? Good idea. But where to?"

"I have an idea," the flyer said slowly. "An idea about an island." He told the professor what he had observed—the fact that there was one spot of land on this globe from which the traffic of these monsters of Venus steered clear. This, he explained, must have some significance.

"Whatever is there, God only knows," he admitted, "but it is something these devils don't like a little bit. It might be interesting to learn more. We'll make a break for it; find a boat. No, we probably can't do it, but we can make a try. Now what is our first step, I wonder."

"Our first step," said Professor Sykes, measuring his words as if he might be working out some astronomical calculation, "is into the inverted shower-bath, if you feel as hot as I do. And our next step, when all is quiet for the night, is through the window I see beyond. I can see the branches of one of those undernourished trees from here."

"Last one in is a lop-eared Venusian!" said McGuire, throwing off his jacket. And in that strange room in a strange world, under the shadow of death and of tortures unknown, the two men stripped with all the care-free abandon of a couple of schoolboys racing to be first in the old swimming hole.

* * * * *

It was some time later when the door opened and a long red hand pushed a tray of food into the room. The tray was of unbreakable crystal—he rattled it heedlessly upon the floor—and it held crystal dishes of unknown foods.

They were sampling them all when Sykes remarked plaintively, "I would like to know what under heaven I am eating."

"I've wished to know that in lots of restaurants," McGuire replied. "I remember a place down on—" He stopped abruptly, then chewed in silence upon a fruit like a striped pepper that stung his mouth and tongue while he scarcely felt it. References to Earth things plainly were to be avoided: the visions they brought before one's eyes were unnerving.

They made a pretence of sleeping in case they were being observed, and it was some hours later when the two stood quietly beside the open window. As Sykes had seen, there were branches of a pale, twisted tree-growth close outside. McGuire tried his weight upon them, then swung himself out, hand over hand, upon the branch that bent low beneath him. Sykes was close behind when he clambered to the ground to stand for some minutes, listening silently in the dark.

"Too easy!" the lieutenant whispered. "They are too foxy to leave a gateway like that—but here we are. The shore is off in this direction."

The dark of a night unrelieved by a single star was about them as they moved noiselessly away. They followed open ground at first. The building that had been their brief prison was upon their right; beyond and at the left was where the ship landed—it was gone now—and beyond that the wall of vegetation.

And again, in the dark, McGuire had an uncanny sense of motion. Soft bodies were slipping quietly one upon another; something that lived was there beyond them in the night. No sound or sign of life came from the house; no guard had been posted; and McGuire stopped again, before plunging into the tangled growth, to whisper, "Too easy, Sykes! There's something about this—"

* * * * *

He had pushed aside the fronds of a giant fern; a cautious step beyond his hands touched a slippery, pliant vine. And his whisper ended as he felt the thing turn and twist beneath his hand. It was alive!—writhing!—cold as the body of a monster snake, and just as vicious and savage in the way that it whipped down and about him in the gloom of the starless night.

The thing was alive! It threw its coils around his body in an embrace that left him breathless; a slender tendril was tightening about his neck; his hands and arms were bound.

His ankle was grasped as he was whirled aloft—a human hand that gripped him this time—and Sykes, forgetting discretion and the need for silence, was shouting in the darkness that gave no clue to their opponent. "Hang on!" he yelled. "I've got you, Mac!"

His shouts were cut short by another serpent shape that thrashed him and smashed the softer growing things to earth that it might wrap this man, too, in its deadly coils.

McGuire felt his companion's hold loosen as he was lifted from the ground; there were other arms flailing about him—living, coiling things that seemed to fight one with another for this prize. Abruptly, blindingly, the scene was vividly etched before him: the strange trees, the ferns, the writhing and darting serpent-arms! They were illumined in a dazzling, white light!

He was in the air, clutched strangely in constricting arms; an odor of rotted flesh was in his nostrils, sickening, suffocating! Beyond and almost beneath him a cauldron of green gaped open, and he saw within it a pool of thick liquid that eddied and steamed to give off the stench of putrescence.

All this in an instant of vision—and in that instant he knew the death they courted. It was a giant pod that held that pool—one of the growths he had seen ranged out like a line of sentinels. But the terrible tendrils that had been coiled and at rest were wrapped about him now, drawing him to that reeking pool of death and the waiting thick lips that would close above him. Sykes, too! The tendrils that had clutched him were whisking his helpless body where another gaping mouth was open—

* * * * *

And then, in the blazing light that was more brilliant than any light of day in this world, the hold about McGuire relaxed. He saw, as he fell, the thick, green lips snap shut; and the arms that had held him pulled back into harmless, tight-wound coils.

Their bodies crashed to earth where a great fern bent beneath them to cushion their fall. And the men lay silent and gasping for great choking breaths, while from the building beyond came the cackle and shrieking of man-things in manifest enjoyment of the frustrated plans.

It was the laughter that determined McGuire.

"Damn the plants!" he said between hoarse breaths. "Man-eating plants—but they're—better—than—those devils! And there's only—one line of them: I saw them here before. Shall we go on?—make a break for it?"

Sykes rolled to the shelter of an arching frond and, without a word, went crawling away. McGuire was behind him, and the two, as they came to open ground, sprang to their feet and ran on through the weird orchard where tree trunks made dim, twisting lines. They ran blindly and helplessly toward the outer dark that promised temporary shelter.

A hopeless attempt: both men, knew the futility of it, while they stumbled onward through the dark. Behind them the night was hideous with noise as the great palace gave forth an eruption of shrieking, inhuman forms that scattered with whistling and wailing calls in all directions.

* * * * *

A mile or more of groping, hopeless flight, till a yellow gleam shone among the trees to guide them. A building, beyond a clearing, gave a bright illumination to the black night.

"We've run in a circle," choked McGuire, his voice weak and uncertain with exhaustion. "Like a couple of fools!—"

He waited until the heavy breathing that shook his body might be controlled, then corrected himself. "No—this is another—a new one—see the towers! And listen—it's a radio station!"

The slender frameworks that towered high in air glowed like flame—a warning to the ships whose lights showed now and then far overhead. And, clear and distinct, there came to the listening men the steady, crackling hiss of an uninterrupted signal.

Against the lighted building moving figures showed momentarily, and McGuire pulled his friend into the safe concealment of a tangle of growth, while the group of yelling things sped past.

"Come on," he told Sykes; "we can't get away—not a chance! Let's have a look at this place, and perhaps—well, I have an idea!" He slipped silently, cautiously on, where a forest of jungle ferns gave promise of safe passage.

* * * * *

Some warning had been sounded; the occupants of the building were scattered to aid in the man-hunt. Only one was left in the room where two Earth-men peeped in at the door.

The figure was seated upon an insulated platform, and his long hands manipulated keys and levers on a table before him. McGuire and Sykes stared amazedly at this broadcasting station whose air was filled with a pandemonium of crashing sound from some distant room, but McGuire was concerned mainly with the motion of a lean, blood-red hand that swung an object like a pointer in free-running sweeps above a dial on the table. And he detected a variation in the din from beyond as the pointer moved swiftly.

Here was the control board for those messages he had heard; this was the instrument that varied the sending mechanism to produce the wailing wireless cries that made words in some far-distant ears. McGuire, as he slipped into the room and crept within leaping distance of the grotesque thing so like yet unlike a man, was as silent as the nameless, writhing horror that had seized them in the dark. He sprang, and the two came crashing to the floor.

Lean arms came quickly about him to clutch and tear at his face, but the flyer had an arm free, and one blow ended the battle. The man of Venus relaxed to a huddle of purple and yellow cloth from which a ghastly face protruded. McGuire leaped to his feet and sprang to the place where the other had been.

"Hold them off as long as you can!" he shouted to Sykes, and his hand closed upon the pointer.

Did this station send where he was hoping? Was this the station that had communicated with the ship that had hovered above their flying field in that far-off land? He did not know, but it was a powerful station, and there was a chance—

* * * * *

He moved the pointer frantically here and there, swung it to one side and another; then found at last a point on the outside of the strange design beneath his hand where the pointer could rest while the crashing crackle of sound was stilled.

And now he swung the pointer—upon the plate—anywhere!—and the noise from beyond told instantly of the current's passage. He held it an instant, then pushed it back to the silent spot—a dash! A quick return that flashed back again to bring silence—a dot! More dashes and dots ... and McGuire thanked a kindly heaven that had permitted him to learn the language of the air, while he cursed his slowness in sending.

Would it reach? Would there be anyone to hear? No certainty; he could only flash the wild Morse symbols out into the night. He must try to get word to them—warn them! And "Blake," he called, and spelled out the name of their field, "warning—Venus—"

"Hold them!" he yelled to Sykes at the sound of rushing feet. "Keep them off as long as you can!"

"... Prepare—for invasion. Blake, this is McGuire...." Over and over, he worked the swinging pointer into symbols that might in some way, by some fortunate chance, help that helpless people to resist the horror that lay ahead.

And while heavy bodies crashed against the door that Sykes was holding, there came from some deep-hidden well of memory an inspiration. There was a man he had once met—a man who had confided wondrous things; and now, with the knowledge of these others who had conquered space, he could believe wholly what he had laughed and joked about before. That man, too, had claimed to have travelled far from the earth; he had invented a machine; his name—

The pointer was swinging in frenzied haste to spell over and over the name of a man, and the name, too, of a forgotten place in the mountains of Nevada. It was repeating the message; then finished in one long crashing wail as a cloud of vapor shot about McGuire and his hand upon the pointer went suddenly limp.

CHAPTER XI

Captain Blake's game of solitaire had become an obsession. He drove himself to the utmost in the line of duty, and, through the day, the demands of the flying field filled his mind to forgetfulness. And for the rest, he forced his mind to concentrate upon the turn of the cards. He could not read—and he must not think!—so he sat through long evenings trying vainly to forget.

He looked up with an expressionless face as Colonel Boynton entered the room. The colonel saw the cards and nodded.

"Does that help?" he asked, and added without waiting for an answer, "I don't like cards, but I find my mathematics works well.... My old problems—I can concentrate on them, and stop this eternal, damnable thinking, thinking—"

There was something of the same look forming about the eyes of both—that look that told of men who struggled gamely under the sentence of death, refusing to think or to fear, and waiting, waiting, impotently. Blake looked at the colonel with a carefully emotionless gaze. "It's hell in the big towns, I hear."

The Colonel nodded. "Can't blame them much, if that's what appeals to them. A year and a half!—and they've got to forget it. Why not crowd all the recklessness and excesses they can into the time that is left?—poor devils! But for the most part the world is wagging along, and people are going through the familiar motions."

"Well," said Blake, "I used to wonder at times how a man might feel if he were facing execution. Now we all know. Just going dumbly along, feeling as little as we can, thinking of anything, everything—except the one thing. They've turned to using dope, a lot of them, I hear. Maybe it helps; nobody cares much. Only a year and a half."

* * * * *

He raised his face from which all expression was consciously erased. "Any possible hope?" he asked. "Or do we take it when it comes and fight with what we've got as long as we can? There was some talk in the papers of an invention—Bureau of Standards cooperating with the big General Committee to investigate. Anything come of it?"

"A thousand of them," said the colonel, "all futile. No, we can't expect much from those things. Though there's a whisper that came to me from Washington. General Clinton—you may remember him; he was here when the thing first broke—says that some scientist, a real one, not another of these half-baked geniuses, has worked out a transformation of some kind. It was too deep for me, but it is based upon changing hydrogen into helium, I think. Liberates some perfectly tremendous amount of power. The general had it all down pat—"

He stopped speaking at the change in Captain Blake's face. The careful repression of all emotions was gone; the face was suddenly alive—

"I know," he said sharply; "I remember something of the theory. There is a difference in the atoms or their protons—the liberation of an electron from each atom—matter actually transformed into energy; theoretical, what I have read. But—but—Oh my God, Boynton, do you mean that they've got it?—that it will drive us through space?"

* * * * *

The colonel drove one fist into the palm of his other hand. "Fool! Idiot!" he exclaimed, and it was evident that the epithets were intended for himself.

"I had forgotten that you had been trained along that line. The general wants a man to work with them, somewhat as a liason officer to link the army requirements closely with their developments; we are hoping to work out a space ship, of course. You are just the man; I will radio him this minute. Be ready to leave—" The slamming of the door marked a hurried exit toward the radio room.

And abruptly, stifflingly, Captain Blake dared to hope. "Scientists will come through with something, some new method of propulsion. All the world is looking to them!" His thoughts were leaping from one possibility to another. "Some miracle of power that will drive a fleet through space as they have done, to battle with the enemy on his own ground—"

Could he help? Was there one little thing that he could do to apply their knowledge to practical ends? The thought thrilled him with overpowering emotion an hour later as he felt the lift of the plane beneath him.

"Report to General Clinton," the colonel's reply had said. "Captain Blake will be assigned to special duty." He opened the throttle to his ship's best cruising speed, but his spirit was soaring ahead to urge on the swift scout ship whose wings drove steadily into the gathering dusk.

* * * * *

And then, after long hours, Washington! Brief words with many men—and discouragement! The seat of government of the United States was a city of despondent men, weary, hopeless, but fighting. There was a look of strain on every face; the eyes told a story of sleepless nights and futile thinking and planning. Blake's elation was short lived.

He was sent to New York and on into the state, where the laboratories of a great electrical company had turned their equipment from commercial purposes to those of war. Here, surely, one might find fuel to feed the dying embers of hope; the new development must give greater promise than General Clinton had intimated.

"Nothing you can do as yet," he was told, when he had stated his mission. "It is still experimental, but we have worked out the transformation on a small scale, and harnessed the power."

Captain Blake was in no mood for temporizing; he was tired with being put off. He stared belligerently at the chief of this department.

"Power—hell!" he said. "We've got power now. How will you apply it? How will we use it for travelling through space?"

The great man of science was unmoved by the outburst. "That is poppycock," he replied; "the unscientific twaddle of the sensational press. We are practical men here; we are working to give you men who do the fighting better ships and better arms. But you will use them right here on Earth."

The calm assurance of this man who spoke with a voice of such confidence and authority left the flyer speechless. His brain sent a chaos of profane and violent expletives to the lips that dared not frame them. There was no adequate reply.

* * * * *

Blake jammed his hat upon his head and walked blindly from the room. Heedless of the protests of those he jostled on the street he went raging on, but some subconscious urge directed his steps. He found himself at the railway. There was a station, and a grilled window where he was asking for a ticket back to Washington. And on the following day—

"There is nothing I can do," he told General Clinton. "It is hopeless. I ask to be relieved."

"Why?" The general snapped the question at him. What kind of man was this that Boynton had sent him?

"They are fools," said Blake bluntly, "pompous, well-meaning fools! They are planning better motors, more power"—he laughed harshly—"and they think that with them we can attack ships that are independent of the air."

"Still," asked General Clinton coldly, "for what purpose do you wish to be relieved? What do you intend to do?"

"Return to the field," said Captain Blake, "to work, and put my planes and personnel in the best possible condition; then, when the time comes, go up and fight like hell."

An unusual phrasing of a request when one is addressing one's commander; but the older man threw back his shoulders, that were bending under responsibilities too great for one man to bear, and took a long breath that relaxed his face and seemed to bring relief.

"You've got the right idea,"—he spoke slowly and thoughtfully—"the right philosophy. It is all we have left—to fight like hell when the time comes. Give my regards to Colonel Boynton; he sent me a good man after all."

* * * * *

Another long flight, westward this time, and, despite the failure of his hopes and of his errand, Blake was flying with a mind at peace. "It is all we have left," the general had said. Well, it was good to face facts, to admit them—and that was that! There was no use of thinking or worrying.... He lifted the ship to a higher level and glanced at his compass. There were clouds up ahead, and he drove still higher into the night, until he was above them.

And again his peace of mind was not to last.

It was night when he swung the ship over his home port and signalled for a landing. A flood of light swept out across the field to guide him down. He went directly to the colonel's quarters but found him gone.

"In the radio room, I think," an orderly told him.

Colonel Boynton was listening intently in the silent room; he scowled with annoyance at the disturbance of Blake's coming; then, seeing who it was, he motioned quickly for the captain to listen in.

"Good Lord, Blake," he told the captain in an excited whisper; "I'm glad you're here. Another ship had been sighted; she's been all over the earth; just scouting and mapping, probably. And there have been signals the same as before—the same until just now. Listen!—it's talking Morse!—it's been calling for you!"

He thrust a head set into Blake's hands, then reached for some papers. "Poor reception, but there's what we've got," he said.

* * * * *

The paper held the merest fragments of messages that the operator had deciphered. Blake examined them curiously while he listened at the silent receiver.

"Maricopa"—the message, whatever it was, was meant for them, but there were only parts of words and disjointed phrases that the man had written down—"Venus attacking Earth ... Captain Blake ... Sykes and...."

At the name of Sykes, Blake dropped the paper.

"What does this mean?" he demanded. "Sykes!—why Sykes was the astronomer who was captured with McGuire!"

"Listen! Listen!" The colonel's voice was almost shrill with excitement.

The night was whispering faintly the merest echo of a signal from a station far away, but it resolved itself into broken fragments of sound that were long and short in duration, and the fragments joined to form letters in the Morse code.

"See Winslow," it told them, and repeated the message: "See Winslow at Sierra...." Some distant storm crashed and rattled for breathless minutes. "Blake see Winslow. This is McGuire, Blake. Winslow can help—"

The message ended abruptly. One long, wailing note; then again the night was voiceless ... and in the radio room at Maricopa Flying Field two men stood speechless, unbreathing, to stare at each other with incredulous eyes, as might men who had seen a phantom—a ghost that spoke to them and called them by name.

"McGuire—is—alive!" stammered Blake. "They've taken him—there!"

* * * * *

Colonel Boynton was considering, weighing all the possibilities, and his voice, when he answered, had the ring of conviction.

"That was no hoax," he agreed; "that quavering tone could never be faked. That message was sent from the same station we heard before. Yes, McGuire is alive—or was up to the end of that sending.... But, who the devil is Winslow?"

Blake shook his head despairingly. "I don't know," he said. "And it seems as if I should—"

It was hours later, far into the night, when he sprang from out of a half-conscious doze to find himself in the middle of the floor with the voice of McGuire ringing clearly in his ears. A buried memory had returned to the level of his conscious mind. He rushed over to the colonel's quarters.

"I've got it," he shouted to that officer whose head was projecting from an upper window. "I remember! McGuire told me about this Winslow—some hermit that he ran across. He has some invention—some machine—said he had been to the moon. I always thought Mac half believed him. We'll go over Mac's things and find the address."

"Do you think—do you suppose—?" began Colonel Boynton doubtfully.

"I don't dare to think," Blake responded. "God only knows if we dare hope; but Mac—Mac's got a level head; he wouldn't send us unless he knew! Good Lord, man!" he exclaimed, "Mac radioed us from Venus; is there anything impossible after that?"

"Wait there," said Colonel Boynton; "I'll be right down—"

CHAPTER XII

Lieutenant McGuire awoke, as he had on other occasions, to the smell of sickly-sweet fumes and the stifling pressure of a mask held over his nose and mouth. He struggled to free himself, and the mask was removed. Another of the man-creatures whom McGuire had not seen before helped him to sit up.

A group of the attenuated figures, with their blood-and-ashes faces, regarded him curiously. The one who had helped him arise forced the others to stand back, and he gave McGuire a drink of yellow fluid from a crystal goblet. The dazed man gulped it down to feel a following surge of warmth and life that pulsed through his paralyzed body. The figures before him came sharply from the haze that had enveloped them. A window high above admitted a golden light that meant another day, but it brought no cheer or encouragement to the flyer. McGuire felt crushed and hopeless in the knowledge that his life must still go on.

If only that sleep could have continued—carried him out to the deeper sleep of death! What hope for them here? Not a chance! And then he remembered Sykes; he mustn't desert Sykes. He looked about him to see the same prison room from which he and Sykes had escaped. The body of the scientist was motionless on the hammock-bed across the room; an occasional deep-drawn breath showed that the man still lived.

No, he must not leave Sykes, even if he had the means of death. They would fight it through together, and perhaps—perhaps—they might yet be of service, might find some way to avert the catastrophe that threatened their world. Hopeless? Beyond doubt. But he must hope—and fight!

The leader had watched the light of understanding as it returned to the flyer's eyes. He motioned now to the others, and McGuire was picked up bodily by four of them and carried from the room.

* * * * *

McGuire's mind was alert once more; he was eager to learn what he could of this place that was to be their prison, but he saw little. A glory of blending colors beyond, where the golden light from without shone through opal walls—then he found himself upon a narrow table where straps of metal were thrown quickly about to bind him fast. He was tied hand and foot to the table that moved forward on smooth rollers to a waiting lift.

What next? he questioned. Not death, for they had been too careful to keep him alive, these repulsive things that stared at him with such cold malevolence. Then what? And McGuire found himself with unpleasant recollections of others he had seen strapped in similar fashion to an operating table.

The lift that he had thought would rise fell smoothly, instead, to stop at some point far below ground where the table with its helpless burden was rolled into a great room.

He could move his head, and McGuire turned and twisted to look at the maze of instruments that filled the room—a super-laboratory for experiments of which he dared not think.

"Whoever says I'm not scared to death is a liar," he whispered to himself, but he continued to look and wonder as he was wheeled before a gleaming machine of many coils and shining, metal parts. A smooth sheet of metal stood vertically beyond him; painted a grayish-white, he saw; but he could not imagine its use. A throng of people, seated in the room, turned blood-red faces toward the bound man and the metal sheet.

"Looks as if we were about to put on a show of some kind," he told himself, "and I am cast for a leading role." He watched as best he could from his bound position while a tall figure in robes of lustreless black appeared to stand beside him.

The newcomer regarded him with a face that was devoid of all emotion. McGuire felt the lack of the customary expression of hatred; there was not even that; and he knew he was nothing more than a strange animal, bound, and helpless, ready for this weird creature's experiments. The one in black held a pencil whose tip was a tiny, brilliant light.

* * * * *

Abruptly the room plunged to darkness, where the only visible thing was this one point of light. Ceaselessly it waved back and forth before his eyes; he followed it in a pattern of strange design; it approached and receded. Again and again the motion was repeated, until McGuire felt himself sinking—sinking—into a passive state of lethargy. His muscles relaxed; his mind was at rest; there seemed nothing in the entire universe of being but the single point of light that drew him on and on ... till something whispered from the far reaches of black space....

It came to him, an insistent call. It was asking about the earth—his own world. What of Earth's armies and their means of defense? Vaguely he sensed the demand, and without conscious volition he responded. He pictured the world he had known; how plainly he saw the wide field at Maricopa, and the sweeping flight of a squadron of planes! Yes—yes! How high could they ascend? From one of the planes he saw the world below; the ships were near their ceiling; this was the limit of their climb. And did they fight with gas? What of their deadliness? And again he was seated in a plane, and he was firing tiny bullets from a tiny gun. No. They did not use gas. But on the ground below—what fortifications? What means of defense?

McGuire's mind was no longer his own; he could only respond to that invisible questioner, that insistent demand from out of the depths where he was floating. And yet there was something within him that protested, that clamored at his mind and brain.

Fortifications! They must know about fortifications—anti-aircraft guns—means for combatting aerial attack. Yes, he knew, and he must explain—and the thing within him pounded in the back of his brain to draw him back to himself.

He saw a battery of anti-aircraft guns in operation; the guns were firing; shells were bursting in little plumes of smoke high in the air. And that self within him was shouting now, hammering at him; "You are seeing it," it told him; "it is there before you on the screen. Stop! Stop!"

* * * * *

And for an instant McGuire had the strange experience of witnessing his own thoughts. Memories, mental records of past experience, were flashing through his mind; mock battles, and the batteries were firing! And, before him, on the metal screen, there glowed a vivid picture of the same thing. Men were serving the guns with sure swiftness; the bursts were high in the air—in a flash of understanding Lieutenant McGuire knew that he was giving his country's secrets to the enemy. And in that same instant he felt himself swept upward from the depths of that darkness where he had drifted. He was himself again, bound and helpless before an infernal contrivance of these devil-creatures. They had read his thoughts; the machine beside him had projected them upon the screen for all to see; a steady clicking might mean their reproduction in motion pictures for later study! He, Lieutenant McGuire, was a traitor against his will!

The screen was blank, and the lights of the room came on to show the thin lips that smiled complacently in a cruel and evil face.

McGuire glared back into that face, and he tried with all the mental force that he could concentrate to get across to the exultant one the fact that they had not wholly conquered him. This much they had got—but no more!

The thin-lipped one had an instrument in his hand, and McGuire felt the prick of a needle plunged into his arm. He tried to move his head and found himself powerless. And now, in the darkness of the room where all lights were again extinguished, the helpless man was fighting the most horrible of battles, and the battleground was within his own mind. He was two selves, and he fought and struggled with all his consciousness to keep those memories from flooding him.

With one part of himself he knew what it meant: a sure knowledge given these invaders of what they must prepare to meet; he was betraying his country; the whole of humanity! And that raging, raving self was powerless to check the flow of memory pictures that went endlessly through his mind and out upon the screen beyond....

He had no sense of time; he was limp and exhausted with his fruitless struggle when he felt himself released from the bondage of the metal straps and placed again in the hammock in his room. And he could only look wanly and hopelessly after the figure of Professor Sykes, carried by barbarous figures to the same ordeal.

* * * * *

Sleep, through the long night, restored both McGuire and his companion to normal strength. The flyer was seated with his head bowed low in his cupped hands. His words seemed wrung from an agony of spirit. "So that's what they brought us here for," he said harshly; "that's why they're keeping us alive!"

Professor Sykes walked back and forth in their bare room while he shook his impotent fists in the air.

"I told them everything," he exploded; "everything!" Their astronomical knowledge must be limited; under this blanket of clouds they can see nothing, and from their ships they could make approximations only.

"And I have told them—the earth, and its days and seasons—its orbital velocity and motion—its relation to the orbit of this accursed planet. They had documents from the observatory and I explained them; I corrected their time of firing their big gun on its equatorial position. Oh, there is little I left untold—damn them!"

"I wish to heaven," said the flyer savagely, "that we had known; we would have jumped out of their beastly ship somehow ten thousand feet up, and we would have taken our information with us."

Sykes nodded agreement. "Well," he asked, "how about to-morrow, and the next day, and the next? They will want more facts; they will pump the last drop of information from us. Are we going to allow it?"

* * * * *

McGuire's tone was dry. "You know the answer to that as well as I do. We have just two alternatives; either we get out of here—find some place to hide in, then find some way to put a crimp in their plans; or we get out of here for good. It's twenty feet, not twenty thousand, from that window to the ground, but I think a head-first dive would do it."

Sykes did not reply at once; he seemed to be weighing some problem in his mind.

"I would prefer the water," he said at last. "If we can get away and reach the shore, and if there is not a possibility of escape—which I must admit I consider highly improbable—well, we can always swim out as far as we can go, and the result will be certain.

"This other is so messy." The man had stopped his ceaseless pacing, and he even managed a cheerful smile at the lieutenant. "And, remember, it might only cripple us and leave us helpless in their hands."

"Sounds all right to me," McGuire agreed, and there was a tone of finality in his voice as he added: "They've made us do that traitor act for the last time, anyway."

* * * * *

Daylight comes slowly through cloud-filled skies; the window of the room where the fountain sprayed ceaselessly was showing the first hint of gold in the eastern sky. Above was the utter darkness of the cloud-wrapped night as the two men swung noiselessly out into the grotesque branches of a tree to make their way into the gloom below. There, under the cover of great leaves, they crouched in silence, while the darkness about them faded and a sound of subdued whistling noises came to them from the night.

A wheel creaked, and in the dim light two figures appeared tugging at a cart upon which was a cage of woven wire. Beyond them, against the darker background of denser growth, tentacles coiled and twisted above the row of guardian plants that surrounded the house.

One of the ghostly forms reached within the cage and brought forth a struggling object that whimpered in fear. The low whine came distinctly to the hidden men. They saw a vague black thing tossed through the air and toward the deadly plants; they heard the swishing of pliant tentacles and the yelping cry of a frightened animal. And the cry rose to a shriek that ended with the gulping splash of thick liquid.

The giant pod next in line was open—they could see it dimly—and its tentacles were writhing convulsively, hungrily, across the ground. Another animal was taken from the cage and thrown to the waiting, serpent forms that closed about and whirled it high in air. Another—and another! The yelps of terror grew faint in the distance as the monsters passed on in their gruesome work. And the two men, palpitant with memories of their own experience, were limp and sick with horror.

* * * * *

In the growing light they saw more plainly the fleshy, pliant arms that whipped through the air or felt searchingly along the ground. No hope there for bird or beast that passed by in the night; nor for men, as they knew too well. But now, as the golden light increased, the arms drew back to form again the tight-wound coils that flattened themselves beside the monstrous pods whose lips were closing. Locked within them were the pools of liquid that could dissolve a living body into food for these vampires of the vegetable world.

"Damnable!" breathed Sykes in a savage whisper. "Utterly damnable! And this world is peopled with such monsters!"

The last deadly arm was tightly coiled when the men stole off through the lush growth that reached even above their heads. McGuire remembered the outlines he had seen from the air and led the way where, if no better concealment could be found, the ocean waited with promise of rest and release from their inhuman captors.

They counted on an hour's start—it would be that long before their jailer would come with their morning meal and give the alarm—and now they went swiftly and silently through the stillness of a strange world. The air that flicked misty-wet across their faces was heavy and heady with the perfume of night-blooming plants. Crimson blossoms flung wide their odorous petals, and the first golden light was filtered through tremendous tree-growths of pale lavenders and grays to show as unreal colors in the vegetation close about them.

* * * * *

They found no guards; the isolation of this island made the land itself their prison, and the men ran at full speed through every open space, knowing as they ran that there was no refuge for them—only the ocean waiting at the last. But their flight was not unobserved.

A great bird rose screaming from a tangle of vines; its heavy, flapping wings flashed red against the pale trees. A pandemonium of shrieking cries echoed its alarm as other birds took flight; the forest about them was in an uproar of harsh cries. And faintly, from far in the rear, came a babel of shrill calls—weird, inhuman!—the voices of the men-things of Venus.

"It's all off," said McGuire sharply; "they'll be on our trail now!" He plunged through where the trees were more open, and Sykes was beside him as they ran with a burst of speed toward a hilltop beyond.

They paused, panting, upon the crest. A wide expanse of foliage in delicate shadings swept out before them to wave gently in a sea of color under the morning breeze, and beyond was another sea that beckoned with white breakers on a rocky shore.

"The ocean!" gasped Sykes, and pointed a trembling hand toward their goal. "But—I had no idea—that suicide—was—such hard work!"

The tall figure of Lieutenant McGuire turned to the shorter, breathless man, and he gripped hard at one of his hands.

"Sykes," he said, "I'll never get another chance to say it—but you're one good scout!... Come on!"

* * * * *

McGuire fought to force his way through jungle growth, while screaming birds marked where they went. The sounds of their pursuers were close behind them when the two tore their way through the last snarled tangle of pale vine to stand on a sheer bluff, where, below, deep waters crashed against a rocky wall. They staggered with weariness and gulped sobbingly of the morning air. McGuire could have sworn he was exhausted beyond any further effort, yet from somewhere he summoned energy to spring savagely upon a tall, blood-red figure whose purpling face rose suddenly to confront them.

One hand closed upon the metal tube that the other hand raised, and, with his final reserve of strength, the flyer wrapped an arm about the tall body and rushed it stumblingly toward the cliff. To be balked now!—to be brought back to that intolerable prison and the unthinkable role of traitor! The khaki-clad figure wrenched furiously at the deadly tube as they struggled and swayed on the edge of the cliff.

He freed his arm quickly, and, regardless of the clawing thing that tore at his face and eyes, he launched one long swing for the horrible face above him. He saw the awkward fall of a lean body, and he swayed helplessly out to follow when the grip of Sykes' hand pulled him back and up to momentary safety.

McGuire's mind held only the desire to kill, and he would have begun a staggering rush toward the shrieking mob that broke from the cover behind them, had not Sykes held him fast. At sight of the weapon, their own gas projector, still clutched in the flyer's hand, the pursuers halted. Their long arms pointed and their shrill calls joined in a chorus that quavered and fell uncertainly.

* * * * *

One, braver than the rest, dashed forward and discharged his weapon. The spurting gas failed to reach its intended victims; it blew gently back toward the others who fled quickly to either side. Above the trees a giant ship nosed swiftly down, and McGuire pointed to it grimly and in silence. The men before them were massed now for a rush.

"This is the end," said the flyer softly. "I wonder how this devilish thing works; there's a trigger here. I will give them a shot with the wind helping, then we'll jump for it."

The ship was above them as the slim figure of Lieutenant McGuire threw itself a score of paces toward the waiting group. From the metal tube there shot a stream of pale vapor that swept downward upon the others who ran in panic from its touch.

Then back—and a grip of a hand!—and two Earth-men who threw themselves out and downward from a sheer rock wall to the cool embrace of deep water.

They came to the top, battered from their fall, but able to dive under a wave and emerge again near one another.

"Swim!" urged Sykes. "Swim out! They may get us here—recover our bodies—resuscitate us. And that wouldn't do!"

Another wave, and the two men were swimming beyond it; swimming feebly but steadily out from shore, while above them a great cylinder of shining metal swept past in a circling flight. They kept on while their eyes, from the wave tops, saw it turn and come slowly back in a long smooth descent.

It was a hundred feet above the water a short way out at sea, and the two men made feeble motions with arms and legs, while their eyes exchanged glances of dismay.

* * * * *

A door had opened in the round under-surface, and a figure, whose gas-suit made it a bloated caricature of a man, was lowered from beneath in a sling. From the stern of the ship gaseous vapor belched downward to spread upon the surface of the water. The wind was bringing the misty cloud toward them. "The gas!" said McGuire despairingly. "It will knock us out, and then that devil will get us! They'll take us back! Our last chance—gone!"

"God help us!" said Sykes weakly. "We can't—even—die—" His feeble strokes stopped, and he sank beneath the water. McGuire's last picture as he too sank and the waters closed over his head, was the shining ship hovering beyond.

He wondered only vaguely at the sudden whirling of water around him. A solid something was rising beneath his dragging feet; a firm, solid support that raised him again to the surface. He realized dimly the air about him, the sodden form of Professor Sykes some few feet distant. His numbed brain was trying to comprehend what else the eyes beheld.

A metal surface beneath them rose higher, shining wet, above the water; a metal tube raised suddenly from its shield, to swing in quick aim upon the enemy ship approaching from above.

His eyes moved to the ship, and to the man-thing below in the sling. Its clothes were a mass of flame, and the figure itself was falling headlong through the air. Above the blazing body was the metal of the ship itself, and it sagged and melted to a liquid fire that poured, splashing and hissing, to the waters beneath. In the wild panic the great shape threw itself into the air; it swept out and up in curving flight to plunge headlong into the depths....

The gas was drifting close, as McGuire saw an opening in the structure beside him. The voice of a man, human, kindly, befriending, said something of "hurry" and "gas," and "lift them carefully but make haste." The white faces of men were blurred and indistinct as McGuire felt himself lowered into a cool room and laid, with the unconscious form of Sykes, upon a floor.

He tried to remember. He had gone down in the water—Sykes had drowned, and he himself—he was tired—tired. "And this,"—the thought seemed a certainty in his mind—"this is death. How—very—peculiar—" He was trying to twist his lips to a weak laugh as the lighted ports in the wall beside him changed from gold to green, then black—and a rushing of torn waters was in his ears....

(To be continued)

* * * * *

ASTOUNDING STORIES Appears on Newsstands THE FIRST THURSDAY IN EACH MONTH



The Sea Terror

By Captain S. P. Meek

The trail of mystery gold leads Carnes and Dr. Bird to a tremendous monster of the deep.



"I beg your pardon, sir. I'm looking for Dr. Bird."

The famous Bureau of Standards scientist appraised the speaker rapidly. Keen blue eyes stared questioningly at him from a mahogany brown face, criss-crossed with a thousand tiny wrinkles. The tattooed anchor on his hand and the ill-fitting blue serge suit smacked of the sea while the squareness of his shoulders and the direct gaze of his eye spoke eloquently of authority.

"I'm Dr. Bird, Captain. What can I do for you?"

"Thank you, Doctor, but I'm not a captain. My name is Mitchell and I am, or was, the first mate of the Arethusa."

"The Arethusa!" Operative Carnes of the United States Secret Service sprang to his feet. "You said the Arethusa? There were no survivors!"

"I believe that I am the only one."

"Where have you been hiding and why haven't you reported the fact of your rescue to the proper authorities? Tell the truth; I'm a federal officer!"

Carnes flashed the gold badge of the Secret Service and an expression of anger crossed Mitchell's face.

"If I had wished to talk to an officer I could have found plenty in New York," he said shortly. "I came to Washington in order to tell my story to Dr. Bird."

The seaman and the detective glared at one another for a moment and then Dr. Bird intervened.

"Pipe down, Carnes," he said softly. "Mr. Mitchell undoubtedly has reasons, excellent reasons, for his actions. Sit down, Mr. Mitchell, and have a cigar."

* * * * *

Mitchell accepted the cigar which the doctor proferred and took a chair. He lighted the weed and after another glance of hostility toward the detective he pointedly ignored him and addressed his remarks to Dr. Bird.

"I have no objection to telling you why I haven't spoken earlier, Doctor," he said. "When the Arethusa sank, I must have hit my head on something, for the next thing I knew, I was in the Marine Hospital in New York. I had been picked up unconscious by a fishing boat and brought in, and I lay there a week before I knew anything. When I knew what I was doing I heard about the loss of my ship and was told that there were no survivors, and I didn't know what to do. The story I had to tell was so weird and improbable that I hesitated to speak to anyone about it. I was not sure at first that it was not a trick of a disordered brain, but since my head has cleared I am convinced of the truth of it ... and yet I know that it can't be so. I have read about you and some of the things you have done, and so as soon as I was able to travel I came here to tell you about it. You will be better able to judge than I, whether what I tell you really happened or was only a vision."

Dr. Bird leaned back in his chair and put the tips of his fingers together. Long, tapering fingers they were, sensitive and well shaped, though sadly marred by acid stains. It was in his hands alone that Dr. Bird showed the genius in his make-up, the artistry which inspired him to produce those miracles of experimentation which had made his name a household word in the realm of science. Aside from those hands he more resembled a pugilist than a scientist. A heavy shock of unruly black hair surmounted a face with beetling black brows and a prognathous jaw. His enormous head, with a breadth and height of forehead which were amazing, rose from a pillar-like neck which sprang from a pair of massive shoulders and the arching chest of the trained athlete. Dr. Bird stood six feet two inches in his socks, and weighed over two hundred stripped. As he leaned back a curious glitter, which Carnes had learned to associate with keen interest, showed for an instant in his eyes.

"I will be glad to hear your story, Mr. Mitchell," he said softly. "Tell it in your own way and try not to omit any detail, no matter how trivial it may be."

* * * * *

The seaman nodded and sat silent for a moment as though marshaling his thoughts.

"The story really starts the afternoon of May 12th," he said, "although I didn't realize the importance of the first incident at the time. We were steaming along at good speed, hoping to make New York before too late for quarantine, when a hail came from the forward lookout. I was on watch and I went forward to see what was the matter. The lookout was Louis Green, an able bodied seaman and a good one, but a confirmed drunkard. I asked him what the trouble was and he turned toward me a face that was haggard with terror.

"'I've seen a sea serpent, Mr. Mitchell,' he said.

"'Nonsense!' I replied sharply. 'You've been drinking again.'

"He swore that he hadn't and I asked him to describe what he had seen. His teeth were chattering so that he could hardly speak, but he gasped out a story about seeing a monstrous head, a half mile across, he said, with a long snake body stretching out over the sea until the end of it was lost on the horizon. I turned my glass in the direction he pointed and of course there was nothing to be seen. The man's condition was such as to make him worse than useless as a lookout, so I relieved him and ordered him below. I took it for a touch of delirium tremens.

"We were bucking a head wind, although not a very stiff one, and we didn't make port until after dark, so we anchored at quarantine, just off Staten Island, in forty fathoms of water, and Captain Murphy radioed for a Coast Guard boat to come out and lay by us for the night. As you have probably heard, we were carrying four millions in bar gold consigned to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from the Bank of England."

* * * * *

Dr. Bird and Carnes nodded. The inexplicable loss of the Arethusa had occupied much space in the papers ten days earlier.

"The cutter came out, signalled, and dropped anchor about three hundred yards away. So far, everything was exactly as it should be. I walked to the stern of the boat and looked out across the Atlantic and then I realized that Green wasn't the only one who could see things. The wind had fallen and it was getting pretty dark, but not too dark to see things a pretty good distance away. As I looked I saw, or thought I saw, a huge black leathery mass come to the surface a mile or so away. There were two things on it that looked like eyes, and I had a feeling as though some malignant thing was staring at me. I rubbed my eyes and looked again, but the vision persisted, and I went forward to get a glass. When I came back the thing, whatever it was, had disappeared, but the water where it had been was boiling as though there were a great spring or something of the sort under the surface.

"I trained my glass on the disturbed area, and I will take my oath that I saw a huge body like a snake emerge from the water. It lay in long undulations on the waves, and moved with them as though it were floating. It was quite a bit nearer than the first thing had been and I could see it plainly with the glass. I would judge it to be fifteen or twenty feet thick, and it actually seemed to disappear in the distance as Green had described it. The sight of the thing sent shivers up and down my spine, and I gave a hoarse shout. The lookout hurried to my side and asked me what the trouble was. I pointed and handed him the glass. He looked through it and handed it back to me with a curious expression.

"'I can't see nothing, sir,' he said.

"I took the glass from him and tried to level it but my hands were trembling so that I was forced to rest it on the rail. The lookout was right. There was absolutely nothing to be seen and the peculiar appearance of the sea had subsided to normal. The lookout was staring at me rather curiously and I knew that he was thinking the same thing about me as I had thought about Green in the afternoon. I made some kind of an excuse and went below to pull myself together. I caught a glimpse of myself in the glass. I was as white as a sheet, and the sweat was running off my face in drops.

* * * * *

"I shook myself together after a fashion and managed to persuade myself that the whole thing was just a trick of my mind, inspired by Green's vivid description of his delirious vision of the afternoon. Eight bells struck, and when Mr. Fulton, the junior officer, relieved me, I laid down and tried to quiet myself. I didn't have much luck. Just before I took the deck again at midnight I slipped down to the forecastle to see how Green was coming along. He was lying in his bunk, wide awake, with staring eyes.

"'How are you feeling now, Green?' I asked.

"He looked up at me with an expression of a man who has looked death in the face.

"'Ain't there no chance of dockin' to-night, Mr. Mitchell?' he asked.

"'Of course not,' I said rather sharply. 'What's the matter with you? Are you afraid your sea serpent will get us?'

"'He'll get us if we stay out here to-night, sir,' he replied with an air of conviction. 'I saw the horrible mouth on him, large enough to bite this ship in half; and it had a beak like a bird, like a bloody parrot, sir. I saw its horrible body, too, with great black ulcers on the under side of it where the sharks had been after it. For all the shark takes a man now and then, he's the seaman's friend, sir, because he kills off the sea serpents who would take ship and all.'

"'Nonsense, Green!' I said sharply. 'Don't talk any more such foolishness or I'll have you ironed. You've been drinking so much that you are seeing things, and I won't have the crew disturbed by your crazy talk.'

"'You won't think it's talk when those big eyes stare into yours to-night, Mr. Mitchell, and that body twists around you and squeezes the life out of you. I don't care whether you iron me or not; I know that I'm doomed and so is everyone else; but I won't talk about it, sir. The crew might as well rest easy while they can, for there's no escape if we have to stay out here to-night.'

"'Well, be sure you keep a tight mouth then,' I said, and left rather hurriedly. I was in a cold sweat, for his air of conviction, together with what I had seen, had shaken me pretty badly. I heard the watch changing up above, and knew there would be men in the forecastle in a minute. I didn't want to face them right then.

* * * * *

"Mr. Fulton reported everything quiet when I went on deck to relieve him, and although I surveyed the water through a night glass for as far as I could see, there was nothing out of the way. The Coast Guard's lights were shining less than a quarter of a mile away, and things looked peaceful enough. The wind had gone down with the sun; the sea was almost glassy, and there was a bright moon.

"After going around the ship, I relieved all of the watch except two men for lookouts, and sent them below to get a good night's sleep. If I hadn't done that, some of them might be alive now.

"I paced the deck for an hour trying to quiet my nerves, but really getting more nervous every minute. Three bells struck and I walked forward and leaned on the rail to watch the water. I saw a peculiar swirl as though some large body were coming to the surface from below, and then I saw—it.

"Dr. Bird, I take a drink once in a while when I am on shore, but never at sea and never in excess, and I know it wasn't a vision of drink delirium. I felt perfectly normal aside from my nervousness, and I don't think it was fever. Either I saw it or I am insane, for it is as vivid to me as though I were standing on the Arethusa's deck and that monstrous horror was rising once more before my eyes."

The seaman's face had become drawn and white as he talked, and drops of sweat were trickling from his chin. Carnes sat forward absorbed in his narrative while Dr. Bird sat back with a glitter in his black eyes and an expression of great attention on his face.

"Go on, Mr. Mitchell," the doctor said soothingly. "Tell me just what you saw."

* * * * *

Mitchell shuddered and glanced quickly around the laboratory as though to assure himself that he was safe within four walls.

"From the surface of the sea," he went on, "rose a massive body, black, and of the appearance of wet leather. It must have been a couple of hundred yards across, although the size of objects is often magnified by moonlight and my terror may have added to its size. In the midst of it were two great discs, thirty feet across, which glowed red with the reflected moonlight. It stared for a moment and then rose higher until it towered above the ship; and then I saw, or thought I saw, a huge gaping beak like a parrot's. It was as Green had described it, large enough to bite the Arethusa in half, and she was a ship of three thousand tons.

"I was frozen with horror and couldn't move or cry out. As I watched, I saw the long snake-like body emerge from the water, and the estimate I had made of the size in the afternoon seemed pitifully inadequate. Presently a second and a third snake arose from the water, and then more, until the whole sea and the air above it seemed a writhing mass of huge snakes. I remember wondering why the watch of the Coast Guard cutter didn't sound an alarm, and then I realized that the thing had arisen on our port side and the cutter was on the starboard.

"The mass of snakes writhed backward and forward, and then two of them rose in the air and hung over the ship. I could see the under side and I saw what Green had called the scars where the sharks had attacked. They were great cup-shaped depressions with vile white edges, and they did resemble huge sores or ulcers. They wavered over the ship for an instant, and then both of them dropped down on the deck.

"I found my voice and I think that I gave a yell, but even as I opened my mouth, I realized the futility of it. The Arethusa was sucked down into the sea as though it had been a tiny chip. I saw the water rising to the rail, and I think I cried out again. The ship tilted and I felt myself falling. The next thing I knew was when I was in the hospital and was told that I had been raving for a week. I was afraid to tell my story for fear I would be put in an asylum, so I kept a tight tongue in my head until I was discharged."

* * * * *

Dr. Bird mused for a moment as the seaman's voice stopped.

"You cried out all right, Mr. Mitchell," he said. "You gave two distinct shouts, both of which were heard by the watch on the Wren, the Coast Guard cutter. They reported that at 1:30, the Arethusa sank without warning. As soon as he heard your shouts, the watch gave the alarm and the crew piled on deck. The Arethusa was gone completely and the Wren was tossing about like 'a chip in a whirlpool' as they graphically described it. The Wren had steam up and they fought the waves and steamed over your anchoring ground looking for survivors, but they found none. The sea gradually subsided and they did the only thing they could do—dropped a buoy, to guide the salvage people, and radioed for assistance. The Robin came out and joined them, and both cutters stood by until daylight, but nothing unusual was seen. The insurance people are trying to salvage the wreck now, but so far they have made little headway."

"That brings me to the rest of the story, the part that made me decide to come to you, Doctor," said the seaman. "Did you see what happened to the divers yesterday?"

Dr. Bird nodded.

"I saw a brief account of it," he said. "It seems that two of them were lost through their lines getting fouled and their air connections severed in some way. I don't believe the bodies have been recovered yet."

"They never will be recovered, Doctor. I was discharged from the hospital yesterday and the papers were just out with an account of it. I went down to the dock where the John MacLean, the salvage ship, ties up, and I talked to Captain Starley who commands it. I have known him casually for some years, although not intimately, and he gave me a few more details than the press got. He didn't connect me up at first with the Mitchell who was reported lost on the Arethusa.

"The first man to go down from the MacLean was Charley Melrose, an expert diver. He went down in a pressure outfit to the bottom and started to work. Everything was going along fine until the telephone suddenly rang and the man who answered it heard him say, 'Raise me, for God's sake! Hurry!' The signal for raising was given, but they hadn't got him more than thirty feet from the bottom before there came a tug on the line and he was gone! The air line, the lifting cable and the telephone cord floated free and were reeled in. Melrose had been plucked off the end of that line as you or I would pluck off a grape."

* * * * *

Dr. Bird leaned forward with the curious glitter again in his eye.

"Go on," he said tersely.

"Blake, the other diver, donned a suit and insisted on being lowered at once. Starley tried to dissuade him but he insisted on going down. They lowered him over the side with a twelve-foot steel-shod pike in his hand. He never got to the bottom. He had not been lowered more than a hundred feet when a scream came over the telephone, and again there was a jerk on the lines which threatened to wreck the reel—and the line came aboard with no diver on the end of it. At the same time, Starley told me, the sea boiled and churned as though the whole bottom were coming up, and his ship was tossed about as though it were in a violent storm, although it was calm enough for forty fathom salvage work and that is pretty quiet, you know. Half the time his screws were out of water and he had a hard time to keep from being capsized. He fought his way out of the disturbed area, and as soon as he did, it started to quiet down, and in ten minutes it was calm again.

"Starley was pretty badly shaken and besides he had lost both of his divers, so he came in and I saw him at the dock. When I heard his yarn, I took him into my confidence and told him what I had seen and that I proposed coming to you and asking your advice. I was afraid until I heard his story that it was merely a vision that I had had, but it certainly was no vision that plucked those two divers off their lines."

"Has Captain Starley told that story to anyone else yet?"

"No, Doctor, he hasn't. He promised not to talk until after I had seen you. I'll vouch for him; he'll keep his word through anything; and he is keeping his whole crew on board until he hears from me."

* * * * *

Dr. Bird sprang to his feet.

"Mr. Mitchell," he said energetically, "you have shown excellent judgment. Wire Captain Starley that you have seen me and that he is to hold his crew on board and to talk to no one until I get there. Carnes, telephone the Chief of Naval Operations and ask him to receive me in conference at once. Have him get the Secretary of the Navy in, too, if he is available. When you have finished that, telephone Bolton that you will be away from Washington indefinitely."

"I'll telephone Admiral Buck for you, Doctor, but I don't dare telephone any such message to Bolton; he'd take my head off. He has been running the whole service ragged lately, and this is my first afternoon off duty in a fortnight."

"What's the trouble, a flood of new counterfeits?"

"No, the counterfeit division is getting along all right. In point of fact, they have lent us a dozen men. The trouble is a sudden big increase in Communist activity throughout the country, with the Young Labor party behind it. Bolton has been pretty jumpy since that Stokowski affair last August and he is afraid of another attempt of some sort on the President."

"The Young Labor party? I thought that gang was bankrupt and out of business, since the Coast Guard broke up their alien smuggling scheme."

"They were down and out for a while, but they are in funds again—and how! They must have three or four millions at least."

"Where did they get it?"

"That's what we have been trying to find out. The leaders have presented bars of gold to a dozen banks throughout the country and demanded specie. The banks shipped the gold to the mint and it was good gold, nine hundred and twenty-five fine. What we are trying to find out is how that gold got into the United States."

"A shipment of that size should be easy to trace."

"It would seem so, but it hasn't been. We have accounted for every pound of every shipment that has come in through a port of entry, and we have checked almost that close on the output of every mine in the United States. If the gold came from Russia, it would have had to cross Europe, and we can't get any trace of it from abroad. It looks as though they were making it."

* * * * *

Dr. Bird rubbed his head thoughtfully.

"Possible, but hardly probable," he said. "How much did you say they had?"

"Over three millions in thirty-pound bars. Each bar shows signs of having a mint mark chiselled off, but that don't help much for they have done too good a job. It has us pretty well bluffed."

Again Dr. Bird rubbed his head.

"Telephone Admiral Buck, and then phone Bolton and tell him exactly what I told you to: that you will be away indefinitely. When he gets through exploding, tell him that you are going with me and that possibly, just barely possibly, we might be on the trail of that gold shipment."

"On the trail of the gold!" gasped Carnes. "Surely, Doctor, you don't think—"

"Once in a while, old dear," replied the Doctor with a chuckle, "which is more than anyone in the Secret Service does. You might tell Bolton that I said that, but hang up quickly if you do. I don't want the wires of my telephone melted off. No, Carnesy, I have no miraculous inspiration as to where that gold is coming from; I just have a plain old-fashioned hunch, and that hunch is that we are going to have lots of fun and more than our share of danger before we see Washington again. After you get through bearding Bolton in his den, you might call the Chief of the Air Corps and ask him to have a bomber held at Langley Field subject to my orders. If he squawks any, I'll talk to him."

He turned to a telephone which stood on his desk and lifted the receiver.

"Get Mr. Lambertson on the wire," he said. "He is the chief technician of the Pyrex Glass Works at Corning, New Jersey."

* * * * *

The U.S.S. Minneconsin steamed out of New York harbor and headed down toward the lower bay. On her forward deck rested a huge globe. The bottom quarter of the sphere was made of some dark opaque substance but the upper portion was transparent as crystal. Through the walls could be seen a quantity of apparatus resting on the opaque bottom portion. Two mechanics from the Bureau of Standards were making final adjustments of one of the pieces of apparatus, which resembled a tank fitted with a piston geared to an electric motor. From the tank, tubes ran to four hollow pipes, an inch and a half in diameter, which ran through the skin and extended thirty inches from the outer skin of the twenty-foot sphere. Dr. Bird stood near talking with the executive officer of the ship and from time to time giving a brief word of direction to the mechanics.

"It's safer than you might think, Commander," he said. "In the first place, that globe is not made of ordinary glass; it is made of vitrilene, a new semi-malleable glass which was developed at the Bureau and which is being made on an experimental scale for us by the Pyrex people. It is much stronger than ordinary glass, and is not sensitive to shock. It is also perfectly transparent to ultra-violet light, being superior even to rock crystal or fused quartz in that respect. The walls, as you have noticed, are four inches thick, and I have calculated that the ball will stand a uniform external pressure of thirty-five hundred atmospheres, the pressure which would be encountered at a depth of about twenty miles. I believe that it will stand a squeeze of six thousand tons without buckling, and it is impossible to fracture it by shock. It could be dropped from the top of the Woolworth Building, and it would just bounce."

"It seems incredible that it could stand such a pressure as you have named."

"My figures are conservative ones. Lambertson calculated them even higher, but we allowed for the fact that this is the first large mass of the material to be cast, and lowered them."

* * * * *

"But suppose your lifting cable should break?" objected the naval officer. "The outfit weighs a good many tons."

"You notice that the lower quarter is made of lead. The specific gravity of the entire globe when sealed up tight with two men in it is only a little more than unity. In the water its weight is so little that a three-inch manilla hawser would raise it, let alone a steel cable. I have another safety device. Granted that the cable should snap, I can detach the lead from it and it would shoot to the surface like a rocket."

"How long can you remain under water in it?"

"A week, if necessary. I have an oxygen tank and a carbon dioxide removing apparatus which will keep the air in good condition. The globe is electrically lighted, and can be heated if necessary. Should my telephone line become fouled and broken, I have a radio set which will enable me to communicate with you. I can't see that it is especially dangerous; not nearly as much so as a submarine."

"What is your object in going down, if I may ask?"

"To take pictures and to explore the wreck if we can. The globe is equipped with huge floodlights and excellent cameras. The salvage people are having a little trouble and we are trying to help them out."

"You mentioned exploring. Can you leave the globe while it is under water?"

"Yes. There is a locking device for doing so. A man in a diving suit can enter the lock and fill it with water. Once the external pressure is released he can open the outer door and step out. Coming back, he seals the outer door and the man inside blows out the lock and compressed air and then the inner door can be opened. It is the same principle as a torpedo tube."

* * * * *

A jangle of bells interrupted them and the Minneconsin slowed down. Commander Lawrence stepped to the rail and gave a sharp order to the navigating officer on the bridge. The bells jangled again and the ship's engines stopped.

"We are almost over the buoy, Doctor," he said.

Dr. Bird nodded and spoke to the two mechanics. With a few final touches to the apparatus they emerged from the globe and Dr. Bird entered.

"Come on, Carnes," he called. "No backing out at the last minute."

Carnes stepped forward with a sickly smile and joined the Doctor in the huge sphere.

"All right, boys; close her up."

The mechanics swung the outer door into place with a crane. Both the edge of the door and the surface against which it fitted had been ground flat and were in addition faced with soft rubber. Bolts were fastened in the door which passed through holes in the main sphere, and Dr. Bird spun nuts onto them and tightened them with a heavy wrench. He and Carnes lifted the smaller inner door into place and bolted it tight. Dr. Bird stepped to the telephone.

"Lower away," he directed.

From a boom attached to the Minneconsin's forward fighting top, a huge steel cable swung down, and the latch at the end of the cable was closed over a vitrilene ring which was fastened to the top of the sphere. The cable tightened and the globe with the two men in it was lifted over the side of the battleship and lowered gently into the water. Carnes involuntarily ducked and threw up his hand as the waters closed over them. Dr. Bird laughed.

"Look up, Carnes," he said.

Carnes gasped as he looked up and saw the surface of the water above him. Dr. Bird laughed again and turned to the telephone.

"Lower away," he said. "Everything is tight."

* * * * *

The globe descended into the depths of the sea. Darker and darker it grew until only a faint twilight glow filled the sphere. A dark bulk loomed before them. Dr. Bird snapped on one of his huge floodlights and pointed.

"The Arethusa," he said.

The ill-fated vessel lay on her side with a huge jagged hole torn in her fabric amidships.

"That's where her boilers burst," explained the Doctor. "Luckily we have a hard bottom to deal with. Let's see if we can locate any of Mitchell's sea serpents."

He turned on other flood lights and swept the bottom of the sea with them. The huge beams bored out into the water for a quarter of a mile, but nothing unusual was to be seen. Dr. Bird turned his attention again to the wreck.

"Things look normal from this side," he said after a prolonged scrutiny. "I'll have the Minneconsin steam around it while we look it over."

In response to his telephone orders the ship above them swung around the wreck in a circle, and Carnes and the Doctor viewed each side in turn. But nothing of a suspicious nature made its appearance. The sphere stopped opposite the hole in the side and Dr. Bird turned to Carnes.

"I'm going to put on a diving suit and explore that wreck," he said. "If there ever was any danger, it isn't apparent now; and I can't find out anything until I get inside."

"Don't do it, Doctor!" cried Carnes. "Remember what happened to the other divers!"

* * * * *

"We don't know what happened to them, Carnes. No matter what it was, there is no danger apparent right now, and I've got to get into that ship before I can get any real information. We could have lowered an under-sea camera and learned as much as we have so far."

"Let me go instead of you, Doctor."

"I'm sorry to refuse you, old dear, but frankly, I wouldn't trust your judgment as to what you had seen if you went alone; and we can't both go."

"Why not?"

"If we both went, who would work the air to let us back in? No, this is a one-man job and I'm the one to do it. While I am gone, keep a sharp lookout, and if you see anything unusual call me at once."

"How can I call you?"

"On this small radio phone. A pair of receivers tuned to the right wave-length are in my diving helmet, and I will be able to hear you although I can't reply. I won't be gone long: I have only a small air tank, large enough to keep me going for thirty minutes. Now help me into my suit and keep a sharp watch. A timely warning may save my life if anything happens."

With Carnes' assistance, Dr. Bird donned a deep-sea diving outfit and screwed down the helmet. He crawled through the inner door into the lock and lifted the inner door into place. Carnes fastened the door with nuts and the Doctor opened a pair of valves in the outer door and filled the lock with water. He removed the outer door; and, taking in one hand a steel-shod twelve-foot pike with a hook on the end, and in the other a waterproof flashlight, he sallied forth. As he left the shell he paused for a moment, and then returned and picked up the heavy wrench with which he had removed the nuts holding the outer door into place. He fastened the tool to the belt of his suit. Then, with a wave of his hand toward the detective, he approached the hulk.

The hole in the side was too high for him to reach, but he hooked the end of his pike in one of the joints of the Arethusa's plates and climbed slowly and painfully up the side of the vessel. As he disappeared into the hull, Carnes realized with a sudden start that he had been watching his friend and neglecting the duty imposed on him of keeping a sharp watch. He turned quickly to the floodlights and searched the sea bottom.

* * * * *

Nothing appeared, and the minutes moved as slowly as hours should. Carnes felt that he had been submerged alone for weeks, and his nerves grew so tense that he felt that he would scream in another instant. A sudden thought sobered him like a dash of cold water. If he screamed, Dr. Bird would take it for an alarm signal and possibly be afraid to emerge from the vessel. His watch showed him that the Doctor had been gone for twenty-five minutes and he moved slowly to the radio transmitter.

"Dr. Bird," he said slowly and distinctly, "you have been gone nearly thirty minutes. Nothing alarming has appeared but I will feel better when I see you coming back."

He glued his eyes on the opening in the ship's side and waited. Five minutes passed, and then ten, with no signs of the Doctor. Carnes moved again to the receiver.

"It has been over half an hour. Doctor," he cried in a pleading voice. "If you are all right, for God's sake show yourself. I am frantic with worry."

Another five minutes passed, and the sweat dripped in a steady stream from the detective's chin. Suddenly he gave a sob of relief and sank back against the side of the globe. A bulky figure showed at the edge of the hole, and Dr. Bird climbed slowly and heavily out of the hold and dropped to the sea bottom. He lay prone for a moment before he rose and made his way with evident effort toward the sphere. He entered the compartment and with a heroic effort lifted the outer door into place, and feebly and with fumbling fingers placed nuts on the bolts. His hands wandered uncertainly toward the valves and closed the upper one. He waved his hand toward Carnes and sank in a heap on the floor of the lock.

* * * * *

With trembling hands Carnes connected the air and opened the valve. Air flowed into the lock and the water was gradually forced out. When the lock was empty, he waited for Dr. Bird to close the outer valve but the Doctor did not move. Carnes tore at the bolts which held the inner door and threw his weight against it. It held against his assault, and he thought frantically. An inspiration came to him, and he disconnected the air valve. With a whistling rush, the air from the lock rushed into the sphere and he forced open the inner door. A stream of sea water drove against his feet through the open valve, and he reached for the valve to close it. The force of the water held it open for a moment, but he threw every ounce of his strength into the effort. The valve slowly closed.

It was beyond his strength to haul the heavy Doctor with his pressure diving suit through the restricted confines of the inner door, so Carnes wormed his way into the lock and with trembling fingers unscrewed the helmet of the Doctor's diving suit. The helmet clanged to the floor and Carnes scooped up his hands full of water and dashed it into the Doctor's face. There was no response and he was at his wit's end. He sprang for the radio to order the sphere hauled up when his glance fell on the oxygen tank. It took him only a moment to connect a rubber hose to the tank, and in a few seconds a blast of the life-giving gas was blowing into the scientist's face. Dr. Bird gave a convulsive gasp or two and opened his eyes.

"Shut off the juice, Carnes," he said faintly. "Too much of that's bad."

Carnes shut off the oxygen and Dr. Bird struggled to a sitting position and inhaled deep breaths.

"That was a narrow squeak, old dear," he said faintly. "Give me a hand and I'll climb in."

* * * * *

With the detective's aid he climbed into the sphere and Carnes fastened the inner door. Slowly the Doctor rid himself of the diving suit and lay prone on the floor, his breath still coming in gasps.

"Thanks for your warning about the time, Carnes," he said. "I knew that my air supply was running short but I was caught down there and couldn't readily free myself. I thought for a while that my time had come, but it wasn't so written. By the looks of things, I freed myself just in time."

"Did you find out anything?" asked the detective eagerly.

"I did," replied Dr. Bird grimly. "For one thing, the gold is no longer in the hold of the Arethusa."

"It's gone?"

"Clean as a whistle, every bar of it. A hole has been cut in the vault around the combination, and the bars slid back and the door opened. The gold has been stolen."

"Might it not have been stolen before the vessel sank?"

"The idea occurred to me of course, and I examined things pretty carefully. I know that the theft occurred after the vessel sank."

"How could you tell?"

"For one thing, the hole was cut with an under-water cutting torch. For the second, look here."

* * * * *

The Doctor rolled up his trousers and showed the detective his leg. Carnes cried out as he saw huge purple welts on it.

"What caused that?" he cried.

"As I entered the vault, I stepped full into a steel bear trap which was set there for the purpose of catching and holding anyone who entered. Someone has visited the Arethusa, since she sank, and looted her, and also arranged so that any diver who got as far as the vault would never return to the surface to tell of it. Luckily for myself, I carried a heavy wrench and was able to free myself. Most divers don't carry such a thing."

"But who could have done it?"

"That's what we have got to find out, and we aren't going to do it down here. Give the word to have us hauled up; and, Carnes, don't mention anything about the looting of the vessel. Allow it to be understood that I couldn't get into the hold. We'll head back for New York at once. I want to have a few small changes made in this sphere before we use it again. While I am doing that, I want you to get hold of the Coast Guard or the Immigration Service or whoever it is that has the complete records in that case of alien smuggling, by the Young Labor party. When you get the information, report to me and we'll go over it. You might also drop a hint to Captain Starley that will stop all further attempts at salvage operations for a few days. Tell him that I'll arrange to have a Coast Guard cutter guard the locality of the wreck."

"Won't that be rather risky for the cutter?"

"I think not. The gold is gone and there is no reason to apprehend any further danger in that locality, at least for the present."

* * * * *

At nine o'clock next morning Carnes and Dr. Bird sat in the office of Lieutenant Commander Minden of the United States Coast Guard, listening intently to the history of the alien smuggling case. Commander Minden was saying:

"Their boats would load up and clear ostensibly for Rio de Janeiro or some other South American port, but once they were in the Atlantic, they would alter their course and head from the Massachusetts coast. Of course, we had no right to interfere with them on the high seas, and they never came closer than fifty miles of our coast line. When they got that close, they would cruise slowly back and forth for a few days and then steam away south to the port they had cleared for. When they got there, of course there were no passengers on board.

"We patrolled the coast carefully while they were around but we never got any indication of any landing of aliens and yet we knew they were being landed in some way. We drew lines so close that a cork couldn't get by without being seen and we even had the air patrolled, but with no results. Eventually the air patrol was the thing that gave them away.

"They had been operating so successfully that they evidently got careless and started a load off late in the night so they didn't reach the coast by dawn. A Navy plane was flying along the coast-line about twelve miles off when they spotted a submarine running parallel with the coast, headed north. It didn't look like an American craft and they went on and radioed Washington and found that we had no under-sea craft in that neighborhood. They returned to their patrol and followed the sub for a matter of thirty or forty miles up the coast, and then it turned in right toward the shore. The shore line there is rocky, and, at the point where the sub was heading, it falls sheer about two hundred fathoms. The sub ran right at the cliff and disappeared from view."

* * * * *

Lieutenant Commander Minden paused impressively. Carnes and Dr. Bird set forward in their chairs, for it was evident that the crux of the story was at hand.

"When the plane reported what they had seen, we knew how those aliens were being landed. The point where the sub went in gave us a good idea of the location of their base and we threw a cordon of men around and searched. A Navy sub was sent to the scene and they reported that there was a tunnel opening into the rock, about a hundred fathoms under water, running for they had no idea how far under the land. They stayed to guard the hole while we combed the land. It took us a week to locate the place, but we traced some truck loads of food and finally found it. This tunnel ran under the land for a mile and then ended in a large cave underground. The Young Labor party had established a regular receiving depot there, and took the aliens from the sub and kept them for a day or two until they had a chance to load them into trucks and run them into Boston or some other town in the night.

"Once we had the place spotted, we sent a gang in and captured the whole works without any trouble. The underground cavern had no natural opening to the surface, but one had been made by blasting. We captured the whole lot and then sealed the end of the hole with rock and concrete. That was the end of the affair."

"Thank you, Commander; you have given us a very graphic description of it. I suppose you could find the entrance which was sealed up?"

* * * * *

"Easily. I led the raiding party. I forgot to mention one blunder we made. Evidently some word of our plans leaked out, for the sub which was guarding the outer end of the tunnel was called away by a radio message supposed to be from the Navy Department. It had gone only a short distance, however, when the commander smelled a rat and made his way back. He was too late. He was just in time to see the sub emerge from the hole and head into the open sea. He gave chase, but the other sub was faster than the Navy boat and it got clear away. The leader of the gang must have been on it, for we didn't get him."

"Who was the leader?"

"From some records we captured, his name was Ivan Saranoff. I never saw him."

"Saranoff?" said Dr. Bird thoughtfully. "The name seems familiar. Where have I—Thunder! I know now. He was at one time a member of the faculty of St. Petersburg. He was one of the leading biologists of his time. Carnes, we've found our man."

"If you are thinking of Saranoff, I am afraid you are mistaken, Doctor," said Commander Minden. "Neither he nor his submarine have ever been heard of since and it has been generally conceded that they were lost at sea. We had some pretty rough weather just after that affair."

"Rough weather doesn't mean much to a sub, Commander. I expect that he's our man. At any rate, the place we want to go is the end of that tunnel."

"I'm at your service, Doctor."

"Carnes, get the location of that tunnel entrance from Commander Minden and order the Minneconsin to proceed north along the coast to that vicinity and stand by for radio orders. I am going to telephone Mitchell Field and get a plane. We have no time to lose."

* * * * *

The plane from Mitchell Field roared down to a landing, and Carnes, Dr. Bird and Commander Minden dismounted from the rear cockpit and looked around. They had landed in a smooth field at the base of a rise almost rugged enough to be called a mountain. A group of three men were standing near them as they got out of the plane. One of the men approached.

"Dr. Bird?" asked the newcomer. "I am Tom Harron, United States Marshal. These two men are deputies. I understand that I am to report to you for orders."

"I'm glad to know you, Mr. Harron. This is Operative Carnes of the Secret Service and Commander Minden of the Coast Guard. We are going to explore an underground cavern that is located in this vicinity."

"Do you mean the one where they used to smuggle aliens? That is closed up. I was in charge of that work and we closed it tight as a drum two years ago."

"Can you find the entrance?"

"Sure. It isn't over a mile from here."

"Lead the way, then. We want to take a look at it."

The marshal led the way toward the eminence and took a path which led up a gully in its side. He paused for a moment to take his bearings and then turned sharply to his left and climbed part way up the side of the ravine.

"Here it is," he announced. An expression of astonishment crossed his face and he examined the ground closely. "By Golly, Doc," he went on as he straightened up, "this place has been opened since I left it!"

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