Unanswerable question! But one thing was certain. Larry had misjudged the captain in suspecting him of mutiny. He was sorry for this and resolved he would make amends by doing all in his power to rescue him and his men, if they were still living.
Meanwhile his own plight, and that of Diane and her father, was critical. What was to be done?
Suddenly, as all three stood there debating that question, Professor Stevens uttered an exclamation and strode toward the pyramid. Following him with their eyes, they saw him pass through an aperture where a huge block of stone had been displaced—and disappear within.
The next moment they had joined him, to find themselves in a small flooded chamber at whose far end a narrow gallery sloped upward at a sharp angle.
The floor and walls were tiled, they noted, and showed none of the corrosion of the exterior surfaces. Indeed, so immaculate was the room that it might have been occupied but yesterday.
As they stood gazing around in wonder, scarcely daring to draw the natural inferences of this phenomena, there came a rasping sound, and, turning toward the entrance, they saw a massive section of masonry descend snugly into place.
They were trapped!
* * * * *
Standing there tense, speechless, they waited, wondering what would be the next move of this strange enemy who held them now so surely in his power.
Nor had they long to wait.
Almost immediately, there issued a gurgling sound from the inclined gallery, and turning their eyes in the direction of this new phenomena, they saw that the water level was receding, as though under pressure from above.
"Singular!" muttered Professor Stevens. "A sort of primitive lock. It seems incredible that human creatures could exist down here, but such appears to be the case."
Larry had no desire to dispute the assumption, nor had Diane. They stood there as people might in the imminence of the supernatural, awaiting they knew not what.
Swiftly the water receded.
Now it was scarcely up to their waists, now plashing about their ankles, and now the room was empty.
The next moment, there sounded a rush of feet—and down the gallery came a swarm of the strangest beings any of them had ever seen.
They were short, thin, almost emaciated, with pale, pinched faces and pasty, half-naked bodies. But they shimmered with ornaments of gold and jade, like some strange princes from the realm of Neptune—or rather, like Aztec chieftains of the days of Cortes, thought Larry.
Blinking in the glare of the searchlights, they clamored around their captives, touching their pressure-suits half in awe and chattering among themselves.
* * * * *
Then one of them, larger and more regally clad than the rest, stepped up and gestured toward the balcony.
"They obviously desire us to accompany them above," said the professor, "and quite as obviously we have little choice in the matter, so I suggest we do so."
"Check!" said Larry.
"And double-check!" added Diane.
So they started up, preceded by a handful of their captors and followed by the main party.
The gallery seemed to be leading toward the center of the pyramid, but after a hundred feet or so it turned and continued up at a right angle, turning twice more before they arrived at length in another stone chamber, smaller than the one below.
Here their guides paused and waited for the main party.
There followed another conference, whereupon their leader stepped up again, indicating this time that they were to remove their suits.
At this, Professor Stevens balked.
"It is suicide!" he declared. "The air to which they are accustomed here is doubtless at many times our own atmospheric pressure."
"But I don't see that there's anything to do about it," said Larry, as their captors danced about them menacingly. "I for one will take a chance!"
And before they could stop him, he had pressed the release-valve, emitting the air from his suit—slowly, at first, then more and more rapidly, as no ill effects seemed to result.
Finally, flinging off the now deflated suit, he stepped before them in his ordinary clothes, calling with a smile:
"Come on out, folks—the air's fine!"
* * * * *
This statement was somewhat of an exaggeration, as the air smelt dank and bad. But at least it was breathable, as Diane and her father found when they emerged from their own suits.
They discovered, furthermore, now that their flashlights were no longer operating, that a faint illumination lit the room, issuing from a number of small crystal jars suspended from the walls: some sort of phosphorescence, evidently.
Once again the leader of the curious throng stepped up to them, beaming now and addressing Professor Stevens in some barbaric tongue, and, to their amazement, he replied in words approximating its harsh syllables.
"Why, daddy!" gasped Diane. "How can you talk to him?"
"Simply enough," was the reply. "They speak a language which seems to be about one-third Basque, mixed oddly with Greek. It merely proves another hypothesis of mine, namely, that the Atlantean influence reached eastward to the Pyrenees mountains and the Hellenic peninsula, as well as to Egypt."
* * * * *
Whereupon he turned and continued his conversation, haltingly it is true and with many gestures, but understandably nevertheless.
"I have received considerable enlightenment as to the mystery of this strange sunken empire," he reported, turning back to them at length. "It is a singular story this creature tells, of how his country sank slowly beneath the waves, during the course of centuries, and of how his ancestors adapted themselves by degrees to the present conditions. I shall report it to you both, in detail, when time affords. But the main thing now is that a man similar to ourselves has conquered their country and set himself up as emperor. It is to him we are about to be taken."
"But it doesn't seem possible!" exclaimed Diane. "Why, how could he have got down here?"
"In a craft similar to our own, according to this creature. Heaven knows what it is we are about to face! But whatever it is, we will face it bravely."
"Check and double-check!" said Larry, with a glance toward Diane that told her she would not find him wanting.
They were not destined to meet the test just then, however, for just at that moment a courier in breech-clout and sandals dashed up the gallery and burst into the room, bearing in his right hand a thin square of metal.
Bowing, he handed it to the leader of the pigmy throng, with the awed word:
At this, Professor Stevens gave a start.
"A message from their high priests!" he whispered.
Whatever it contained, the effect produced on the reader was profound. Facing his companions, he addressed them gravely. Then, turning from the room, he commanded the captives to follow.
* * * * *
The way led back down the inclined gallery to a point where another door now stood open, then on down until finally the passage leveled out into a long, straight tunnel.
This they traversed for fully a mile, entering at length a large, square chamber where for a moment they paused.
"I judge we are now at the base of the large pyramid," the professor voiced in an undertone. "It would naturally be the abode of the high priests."
"But what do you suppose they want with us?" asked Diane.
"That I am not disposed to conjecture," was her father's reply.
But the note of anxiety in his voice was not lost on Diane, nor on Larry, who pressed her hand reassuringly.
Now their captors led them from the room through a small door opening on another inclined gallery, whose turns they followed until all were out of breath from the climb.
It ended abruptly on a short, level corridor with apertures to left and right.
Into the latter they were led, finding themselves in a grotesquely furnished room, lit dimly by phosphorescent lamps.
Swiftly the leader addressed Professor Stevens. Then all withdrew. The aperture was closed by a sliding block of stone.
* * * * *
For a moment they stood there silent, straining their eyes in the gloom to detect the details of their surroundings, which included several curious chairs and a number of mattings strewn on the tiled floor.
"What did he say?" asked Diane at length, in a tremulous voice.
"He said we will remain here for the night," her father replied, "and will be taken before the high priests at dawn."
"At dawn!" exclaimed Larry. "How the deuce do they know when it is dawn, down here?"
"By their calendars, which they have kept accurately," was the answer. "But there are many other questions you must both want to ask, so I shall anticipate them by telling you now what I have been able to learn. Suppose we first sit down, however. I for one am weary."
Whereupon they drew up three of those curious chairs of some heavy wood carved with the hideous figures of this strange people's ancient gods, and Professor Stevens began.
* * * * *
Their sunken empire, as he had surmised, had indeed been the great island of Antillia and a colony of Atlantis. A series of earthquakes and tidal waves such as engulfed their homeland ages before had sent it down, and the estimated archaeological date of the final submergence—namely, 200 B. C.—was approximately correct.
But long before this ultimate catastrophe, the bulk of the disheartened population had migrated to Central and South America, founding the Mayan and Incan dynasties. Many of the faithful had stayed on, however, among them most of the Cabiri or high priests, who either were loath to leave their temples or had been ordered by their gods to remain.
At any rate, they had remained, and as the great island sank lower and lower, they had fortified themselves against the disaster in their pyramids, which by then alone remained above the surface.
These, too, had gradually disappeared beneath the angry waters, however, and with them had disappeared the steadfast priests and their faithful followers, sealing their living tombs into air-tight bell-jars that retained the atmosphere.
This they had supplemented at first by drawing it down from above, but as time went by they found other means of getting air; extracting it from the sea water under pressure, by utilizing their subterranean volcanoes, in whose seething cauldrons the gods had placed their salvation; and it was this process that now provided them with the atmosphere which had so amazed their captives.
But naturally, lack of sunshine had produced serious degeneration in their race, and that accounted for their diminutive forms and pale bodies. Still, they had been able to survive with a degree of happiness until some ten or a dozen years ago, when a strange enemy had come down in a great metal fish, like that of these new strangers, and with a handful of men had conquered their country.
This marauder was after their gold and had looted their temples ruthlessly, carrying away its treasures, for which they hated him with a fury that only violation of their most sacred deities could arouse. Long ago they would have destroyed him, but for the fact that he possessed terrible weapons which were impossible to combat. But they were in smouldering rebellion and waited only the support of their gods, when they would fall on this oppressor and hurl him off.
That, though it left many things unexplained, was all the professor had been able to gather from his conversation with the leader of their captors. He ended, admitting regretfully that he was still in ignorance of what fate had befallen Captain Petersen and the crew of the Nereid.
* * * * *
"Perhaps this fellow in the other submarine has got them," suggested Larry.
"But why weren't we taken to him too?" asked Diane. "What do you suppose they want with us, anyway, daddy?"
"That, my dear, as I told you before," replied her father, "I am not disposed to conjecture. Time will reveal it. Meanwhile, we can only wait."
As before, there was a note of anxiety in his voice not lost on either of them. And as for Larry, though he knew but little of those old religions, he knew enough to realize that their altars often ran with the blood of their captives, and he shuddered.
With these grim thoughts between them, the trio fell silent.
A silence that was interrupted presently by the arrival of a native bearing a tray heaped with strange food.
Bowing, he placed it before them and departed.
Upon examination, the meal proved to consist mainly of some curious kind of steamed fish, not unpalatable but rather rank and tough. There were several varieties of fungus, too, more or less resembling mushrooms and doubtless grown in some sunless garden of the pyramid.
These articles, together with a pitcher of good water that had obviously been distilled from the sea, comprised their meal, and though it was far from appetizing, they ate it.
But none of the three slept that night, though Diane dozed off for a few minutes once or twice, for their apprehension of what the dawn might hold made it impossible, to say nothing of the closeness of the air in that windowless subterranean room.
Slowly, wearily, the hours dragged by.
At length the native who had brought their food came again. This time he spoke.
"He says we are now to be taken before the high priests," Professor Stevens translated for them.
Almost with relief, though their faces were grave, they stepped out into the corridor, where an escort waited.
* * * * *
Five minutes later, after proceeding along an inclined gallery that wound ever upward, they were ushered into a vast vaulted chamber lit with a thousand phosphorescent lamps and gleaming with idols of gold and silver, jewels flashing from their eyes.
High in the dome hung a great golden disc, representing the sun. At the far end, above a marble altar, coiled a dragon with tusks of ivory and scales of jade, its eyes two lustrous pearls.
And all about the room thronged priests in fantastic head-dress and long white robes, woven through elaborately with threads of yellow and green.
At the appearance of the captives, a murmur like a chant rose in the still air. Someone touched a brand to the altar and there was a flash of flame followed by a thin column of smoke that spiraled slowly upward.
Now one of the priests stepped out—the supreme one among them, to judge from the magnificence of his robe—and addressed the trio, speaking slowly, rhythmically.
As his strange, sonorous discourse continued, Professor Stevens grew visibly perturbed. His beard twitched and he shifted uneasily on his feet.
* * * * *
Finally the discourse ceased and the professor replied to it, briefly. Then he turned grave eyes on Larry and Diane.
"What is it?" asked the latter, nervously. "What did the priest say, daddy?"
Her father considered, before replying.
"Naturally, I did not gather everything," was his slow reply, "but I gathered sufficient to understand what is afoot. First, however, let me explain that the dragon you see over there represents their deity Tlaloc, god of the sea. In more happy circumstances, it would be interesting to note that the name is identified with the Mayan god of the same element."
He paused, as though loath to go on, then continued:
"At any rate, the Antillians have worshipped Tlaloc principally, since their sun god failed them. They believe he dragged down their empire in his mighty coils, through anger with them, and will raise it up again if appeased. Therefore they propose today to—"
"Daddy!" cried Diane, shrinking back in horror, while a chill went up Larry's spine. "You mean—mean that—"
"I mean, my poor child, that we are about to be sacrificed to the dragon god of the Antillians."
* * * * *
The words were no more than uttered, when with a weird chant the Cabiri closed in on their victims and led them with solemn ceremonial toward the altar.
In vain did Professor Stevens protest. Their decision had been made and was irrevocable. Tlaloc must be appeased. Lo, even now he roared for the offering!
They pointed to the dragon, from whose nostrils suddenly issued hissing spurts of flame.
Larry fumed in disgust at the cheap hocus-pocus of it—but the next moment a more violent emotion swept over him as he saw Diane seized and borne swiftly to that loathsome shrine.
But even as he lunged forward, the professor reached his daughter's side. Throwing himself in front of her, he begged them to spare her, to sacrifice him instead.
The answer of the priests was a blow that knocked the graybeard senseless, and lifting Diane up, half-swooning, they flung her upon the altar.
"Mr. Hunter! Larry!" came her despairing cry.
She struggled up and for a moment her blue eyes opened, met his beseechingly.
That was enough—that and that despairing cry, "Larry!"
With the strength of frenzy, he flung off his captors, rushed to her aid, his hard fists flailing.
The pigmies went down in his path like grain before the scythe. Reaching the altar, he seized the priest whose knife was already upraised, and, lifting him bodily, flung him full into the ugly snout of that snorting dragon.
Then, as a wail of dismay rose from the Cabiri, at this supreme sacrilege, he seized the now unconscious Diane and retreated with her toward the door.
* * * * *
But there spears barred his escape; and now, recovered from the first shock of this fearful affront to their god, the priests started toward him.
Standing at bay, with that limp, tender burden in his arms, Larry awaited the end.
As the maddened horde drew near, she stirred, lifted her pale face and smiled, her eyes still shut.
"You saved me. I won't forget."
Then, the smile still lingering, she slipped once more into merciful oblivion, and as Larry held her close to his heart, a new warmth kindled there.
But bitterness burned in his heart, too. He had saved her—won her love, perhaps—only to lose her. It wasn't fair! Was there no way out?
The priests were close now, their pasty faces leering with fierce anticipation of their revenge, when suddenly, from down the gallery outside that guarded door, came the sharp crash of an explosion, followed by shouts and the rush of feet.
At the sound, the priests trembled, fled backward into the room and fell moaning before their idols, while the quaking guards strove frantically to close the door.
* * * * *
But before they could do so, in burst a half dozen brawny sailors in foreign uniform, bearing in their hands little black bulbs that looked suspiciously like grenades. Shouting in a tongue Larry could not distinguish above the uproar, they advanced upon the retreating guards and priests.
Then, when all were herded in the far corner of the room, the sailors backed toward the door. Motioning for Larry and Diane to clear out, they raised those sinister little missiles, prepared to fling them.
"Wait!" cried Larry, thinking of Professor Stevens.
And releasing Diane, who had revived, he rushed forward, seized the prostrate savant from amid the unresisting Cabiri, and bore him to safety.
"Daddy!" sobbed Diane, swaying to meet them.
"Back!" shouted one of the sailors, shoving them through the door.
The last glimpse Larry had of that fateful room was the horde of priests and guards huddled before their altar, voices lifted in supplication to that hideous dragon god.
Then issued a series of blinding flashes followed by deafening explosions, mingled with shrieks of anguish.
Sickened, he stood there, as the reverberations died away.
* * * * *
Presently, when it was plain no further menace would come from that blasted temple, their rescuers led the trio back down those winding galleries, and through that long, straight tunnel to the smaller pyramid.
Professor Stevens had recovered consciousness by now and was able to walk, with Larry's aid, though a matted clot of blood above his left ear showed the force of the blow he had received.
The way, after reaching the smaller pyramid, led up those other galleries they had mounted the night before.
This time, undoubtedly, they were to be taken before that mysterious usurping emperor. And what would be the result of that audience? Would it but plunge them from the frying pan into the fire, wondered Larry, or would it mean their salvation?
Anyway, he concluded, no fate could be worse than the hideous one they had just escaped. But if only Diane could be spared further anguish!
He glanced at her fondly, as they walked along, and she returned him a warm smile.
Now the way led into a short, level passage ending in a door guarded by two sailors with rifles. They presented arms, as their comrades came up, and flung open the door.
As he stepped inside, Larry blinked in amazement, for he was greeted by electric lights in ornate clusters, richly carpeted floors, walls hung with modern paintings—and there at the far end, beside a massive desk, stood an imposing personage in foreign naval uniform of high rank, strangely familiar, strangely reminiscent of war days.
Even before the man spoke, in his guttural English, the suspicion those sailors had aroused crystallized itself.
A German! A U-boat commander!
* * * * *
"Greetings, gentlemen—and the little lady," boomed their host, with heavy affability. "I see that my men were in time. These swine of Antillians are a tricky lot. I must apologize for them—my subjects."
The last word was pronounced with scathing contempt.
"We return greetings!" said Professor Stevens. "To whom, might I ask, do we owe our lives, and the honor of this interview?"
Larry smiled. The old graybeard was up to his form, all right!
"You are addressing Herr Rolf von Ullrich," the flattered German replied, adding genially: "commander of one of His Imperial Majesty's super-submarines during the late war and at present Emperor of Antillia."
To which the professor replied with dignity that he was greatly honored to make the acquaintance of so exalted a personage, and proceeded in turn to introduce himself and party. But Von Ullrich checked him with a smile.
"The distinguished Professor Stevens and his charming daughter need no introduction, as they are already familiar to me through the American press and radio," he said. "While as for Mr. Hunter, your Captain Petersen has already made me acquainted with his name."
At the mention of the commander of the Nereid, all three of them gave a start.
"Then—then my captain and crew are safe?" asked the professor, eagerly.
"Quite," Von Ullrich assured him. "You will be taken to them presently. But first there are one or two little things you would like explained—yes? Then I shall put to you a proposal, which if acceptable will guarantee your safe departure from my adopted country."
Whereupon the German traced briefly the events leading up to the present.
* * * * *
During the last months of the war, he had been placed in command of a special U-boat known as the "mystery ship"—designed to resist depth-charges and embodying many other innovations, most of them growing out of his own experience with earlier submarines.
One day, while cruising off the West Indies, in wait for some luckless sugar boat, he had been surprised by a destroyer and forced to submerge so suddenly that his diving gear had jammed and they had gone to the bottom. But the craft had managed to withstand the pressure and they had been able to repair the damage, limping home with a bad leak but otherwise none the worse for the experience.
The leak repaired and the hull further strengthened, he had set out again. But when in mid-Atlantic the Armistice had come, and rather than return to a defeated country, subject possibly to Allied revenge, he had persuaded his crew to remain out and let their craft be reported missing.
What followed then, though Von Ullrich masked it in polite words, was a story of piracy, until they found by degrees that there was more gold on the bottom of the ocean than the top; and from this to the discovery of the sunken empire where he now held reign was but a step.
They had thought at first they were looting only empty temples—but, finding people there, had easily conquered them, though ruling them, he admitted, was another matter. As, for instance, yesterday, when the priests had interfered with his orders and carried his three chief captives off to sacrifice.
"Where now, but for me, you would be food for their gods!" he ended. "And if you do not find my hospitality altogether to your liking, friends, remember that you came uninvited. In fact, if you will recall, you came despite my explicit warning!"
* * * * *
But since they were here, he told them, they might be willing to repay his good turn with another.
Whereupon Von Ullrich launched into his proposal, which was that Professor Stevens place the Nereid at his disposal for visiting the depths at the foot of the plateau, where lay the capital of the empire, he said—a magnificent metropolis known as the City of the Sun and modeled after the great Atlantean capital, the City of the Golden Gates, and the depository of a treasure, the greedy German believed, that was the ransom of the world.
The professor frowned, and for a moment Larry thought he was going to remind their host that this was not a treasure hunt.
"Why," he asked instead, "do you not use your own submarine for the purpose?"
"Because for one thing, she will not stand the pressure, nor will our suits," was the reply. "And for another, she is already laden with treasure, ready for an—er—forced abdication!" with a sardonic laugh.
"Then have you not enough gold already?"
"For myself, yes. But there are my men, you see—and men who have glimpsed the treasures of the earth are not easily satisfied, Professor. But have no fear. You shall accompany us, and, by your aid, shall pay your own ransom."
* * * * *
Von Ullrich made no mention of the alternative, in case the aid was refused, but the ominous light Larry caught in his cold gray eyes spoke as clearly as words.
So, since there was nothing else to do, Professor Stevens agreed.
Whereupon the audience terminated and they were led from the presence of this arrogant German to another apartment, where they were to meet Captain Petersen and the crew of the Nereid.
As they proceeded toward it, under guard, Larry wondered why Von Ullrich had even troubled to make the request, when he held it in his power to take the craft anyway.
But after the first joyful moment of reunion, it was a mystery no longer, for Captain Petersen reported that immediately upon their capture, the commander of the U-boat had tried to force him to reveal the operation of the Nereid, but that he had steadfastly refused, even though threatened with torture.
And to think, it came to Larry with a new twinge of shame, that he had suspected this gallant man of mutiny!
* * * * *
That very morning, while Professor Stevens and his party were still exchanging experiences with Captain Petersen and the members of the crew, Von Ullrich sent for them and they gathered with his own men in the small lock-chamber at the base of the pyramid.
There they were provided with temporary suits by their host, since their own—which they brought along—could be inflated only from the Nereid.
Beside her, they noted as they emerged in relays, the U-boat was now moored.
Entering their own craft, they got under way at once and headed swiftly westward toward the brink of the plateau. Most of Von Ullrich's crew were with them, though a few had been left behind to guard against any treachery, on the part of the now sullen and aroused populace.
Slipping out over the edge of that precipitous tableland, they tilted her rudders and dove to the abysm below.
Presently the central square of the illuminated panel in the navigating room showed three great concentric circles, enclosed by a quadrangle that must have been miles on a side—and within this vast sunken fortress lay a city of innumerable pyramids and temples and palaces.
The German's eyes flashed greedily as he peered upon this vision.
"There you are!" he exclaimed, quivering with excitement. "Those circles, that square: what would you judge they were, Professor?"
"I would judge that originally they were the canals bearing the municipal water supply," Martin Stevens told him quietly, suppressing his own excitement, "for such was said to be the construction of the City of the Golden Gates; but now I judge they are walls raised on those original foundations by the frantic populace, when the submergence first began, in a vain effort to hold back the tides that engulfed them."
"And do you think they are of gold?"
"Frankly, no; though I have no doubt you will find plenty of that element down there."
Nor was the prediction wrong, for modern eyes had never seen such a treasure house as they beheld when presently the Nereid came to rest outside that ancient four-walled city and they forced their way inside.
* * * * *
Though the walls were not of gold, the inner gates were, and the temples were fairly bursting with the precious metal, as well as rare jewels, the eyes of a thousand idols gleaming with rubies and emeralds.
But where was the populace, amid all this prodigious wealth? Was there no life down here?
Von Ullrich declared through the vibrator of his pressure-suit that he had heard there was. And as though in substantiation, many of the temples showed the same bell-jar construction as the pyramids above, though even stouter, revealing evidences of having been occupied very recently; but all were flooded and empty. The city was as a city of the dead.
This ominous sign did not deter the "emperor," however. Ruthlessly he and his men looted those flooded temples, forcing Professor Stevens and his party to lend aid in the orgy of pillage.
And all the time, Larry had an uneasy feeling of gathering furtive hosts about them, waiting—waiting for what?
He confided his fears to no one, though he noted with relief that Von Ullrich seemed to sense these unseen presences too, for he proceeded with caution and always kept a strong guard outside.
* * * * *
By early afternoon, the Nereid was one great coffer-chest.
But still the rapacious U-boat commander was unsatisfied, though Professor Stevens began to have doubts if his craft could lift that massive weight of plunder to the top of the plateau.
"One more load and we go," he soothed. "A few more pretties for the little lady!"
Larry writhed, and should have suspected then and there—but as it was, the blow fell unexpected, stunning.
Filing from the lock, they failed to notice that Von Ullrich and his crew hung back, until there came a sudden, guttural command, whereupon Diane was seized and the massive door flung shut in their faces.
Appalled by this overwhelming disaster, the party stood for a moment motionless, speechless. Then, as one, Larry and the professor rushed forward and beat upon that barred hatch, calling upon Von Ullrich to open it.
From within the submarine, through their vibrators, they heard him laugh.
"Auf Wiedersehen!" he toasted them. "I now have all the treasure I want! The rest I leave to you! Help yourselves!"
Even as he spoke, the Nereid's auxiliary propellers started churning the water. Slowly, sluggishly, like some great gorged fish, the sturdy craft moved off, lifted her snout, headed upward.
* * * * *
Professor Stevens bowed his head, and Larry could well picture the grief that distorted the graybeard's face, inside that owl-eyed helmet.
"Cheer up!" he said, though his own face was twisted with anguish. "Perhaps—"
Then he paused—for how could he say that perhaps the situation wasn't as bad as it seemed, when it was obviously hopeless?
"My poor Diane!" moaned the professor. "Poor child. Poor child!"
As for Captain Petersen and the crew, they said nothing. Perhaps they were thinking of Diane, perhaps of themselves. At least, they knew it was over.
Or so they thought. But to Larry, suddenly, occurred a gleam of hope. That strange sense of unseen presences! It was bizarre, of course, but doesn't a drowning person catch at straws? And Lord knows they were drowning, if ever anyone was!
He turned and confided to Professor Stevens his idea, which was to retrace their steps within the city gates, seek out the populace and throw themselves on their mercy.
The stricken savant, too, grasped at the straw.
"It seems fantastic, but after all it is a chance," he admitted.
So they pushed back into that great submerged city, with Captain Petersen and his skeptical crew. They entered one of the largest of the temples, wandered forlornly through its flooded halls and corridors, seeking some sign of these alleged beings Larry had sensed.
Nor was their search unrewarded, for suddenly the captain himself, most skeptical of all, cried out:
"Listen! Did you hear that?"
There was no need to ask the question, for all had heard. It was a rasping sound, as of some great door swinging shut, followed almost immediately by a rushing gurgle—and as they stood there tense, the water level began rapidly receding.
Even while it was still plashing about their ankles, a secret block of masonry slid back and a horde of Antillians burst in upon them.
* * * * *
What happened then, happened with a rush that left them dazed.
Unable to talk directly with the pigmies, by reason of their pressure-suits, which they dared not remove, they started gesturing with them, trying to explain their predicament and make known that they bore them no ill-will, but the creatures waved for them to cease and led them swiftly through the now waterless temple.
"Well, I guess it's all up!" said Larry, adding with dismal humor: "They're probably going to finish that meal they started feeding their dragon last night!"
No one laughed, nor made any comment, and he relapsed into silence, realizing that they probably held him responsible for this latest disaster.
Leaving the temple, their captors led them into a passage that was level for a time, then inclined sharply. It was laborious going but they struggled on.
"I believe they know we are not their enemies!" declared Professor Stevens, at length, to everyone's cheer. "They seem to be leading us back to the plateau by some underground passage."
"Let's hope so!" said Larry. "Perhaps I had the right hunch after all."
"But my poor Diane!" came the professor's sorrowing after-thought. "That fiend Von Ullrich could never get the Nereid up safely."
"I think perhaps he could, with Miss Stevens to help him," put in Captain Petersen, his usual optimism returning. "She is thoroughly familiar with the craft's operation."
"That is so," her father admitted, his tone brighter. "But—"
"Of course it's so!" exclaimed Larry, breaking off any less hopeful reflections. "So cheerio, folks, as the English say. We'll make it yet!"
But in his heart, he was tormented with doubt for Diane's safety....
* * * * *
The trail was growing eery, now, and precipitous. To their right rose a sheer cliff. To their left, the path fell off abruptly to a gigantic caldron where red flames leaped and waned.
"Looks like something out of Dante's 'Inferno'!" muttered Larry, with a shudder.
"The volcano where they distill their atmosphere, evidently," commented Professor Stevens. "It would have been interesting, in other circumstances, to observe the process."
"Not to me, it wouldn't!"
Larry was glad when they had passed that seething hell-pot and were once more proceeding through a long, dark gallery.
But everywhere, though their guides were but a handful, was a sense of those unseen presences, of gathering, furtive hosts about them, waiting—waiting for what?
What was this strange sense of tension, of foreboding, that hung in the air? Was the professor wrong? Were they being led to their doom, after all?
He was soon to know, for now the gallery they had been traversing levelled out into a series of short passages, each barred by a heavy stone door, and finally they were led into a small, square room, barely large enough to admit them all.
There, with gestures toward the far end, their guides left them.
The door closed, and almost immediately another on the opposite side opened, slowly at first, then wider and wider, admitting a rush of water that promptly filled the room.
Stepping wonderingly out, they found themselves on the upper level, beside the second of the two smaller pyramids.
* * * * *
"Whew!" gasped Larry, as they stood looking around, still a little dazed. "These people are sure quick-change artists! First they try to feed you to their gods, then they save you from almost as bad a fate. Dizzy, I call it!"
"Quite understandable, I should say," declared the professor. "Unable to cope with Von Ullrich themselves, they think perhaps we may be able to."
"Well, let's hope they're right!" grimly. "If once I get my hands on him—"
He broke off suddenly, as Captain Petersen called out:
"The Nereid! There she is!"
Following with their eyes the bright segment cut into the murky depths by his flashlight, they saw the familiar outlines of their craft; and close beside her lay the U-boat.
A feverish activity seemed to be going on between the two submarines.
"They're changing cargo!" cried Larry. "Quick! We've got them now!"
But the progress they were able to make, hampered by their heavy suits, was maddeningly slow. Their searchlights, moreover, betrayed their approach. Before they could reach the scene, most of the sailors had abandoned their task and piled into the U-boat.
Arms swinging wildly, Von Ullrich stood beside it, trying to rally then. Refusing to risk combat, however, since they were unable to use their deadly hand-grenades under water, they continued clambering up the sides of their submersible and shoving down through its conning-tower hatch.
Now a figure in a familiar pressure-suit broke away and started toward the advancing party.
It was Diane!
* * * * *
Even as he recognized her, Larry saw Von Ullrich lunge forward, seize his captive and mount to the conning-tower with her—but before the German could thrust her into the hatch, he had reached the U-boat's side and clambered to her rescue.
Dropping Diane, Von Ullrich wheeled to face his assailant. They grappled, fell to the deck, rolled over and over.
But suddenly, as they were struggling, there came a sound that caused the German to burst free and leap to his feet.
It was the sound of engines under them!
Ignoring Larry now, Von Ullrich staggered to the conning-tower hatch. It was battened fast. Frantically he beat on it.
This much Larry saw, as he knelt there getting his breath. Then he rose, took Diane by the arm and led her down. And he was none too soon, for with a lunge the U-boat got under way.
But she seemed unable to lift her loot-laden mass from the ocean floor, and headed off crazily across the plateau, dragging her keel in the sand.
With fascinated horror, they watched the craft's erratic course, as it swung loggily westward and headed toward that yawning abysm from which they had all so lately risen.
The last sight they had of the U-boat was as it reached the brink, its despairing commander still standing in the conning-tower, hammering vainly on that fast-bound hatch; then they turned away faint, as the doomed craft plunged down, stern up, into those crushing depths.
* * * * *
Professor Stevens now joined them.
"A lesson in avarice," he said gravely, when he had greeted his daughter with heartfelt relief. "And a typical fate of fortune hunters! Let that be a lesson to you, young man."
"Amen!" said Larry.
"But what happened, my dear?" asked the professor of Diane, a moment later. "Why were they in such a hurry to be off?"
"Because the sensible Antillians seized their opportunity and overcame their guards, while we were below," was her reply. "When we got back, we found the pyramids flooded, so there was nothing else for them to do but go."
So that was the explanation of those gathering, furtive hosts in the lower level, thought Larry. Now he knew what they had been waiting for! They had been waiting for that usurping vandal to depart.
And how they must be gloating now, down there!
"But why were they so eager to abandon the Nereid?" asked the savant, still puzzled. "It it a better boat than theirs, even if I do say so myself."
"Because I put it out of commission, directly we got back up here," replied Diane. "But not permanently!" she added, with what Larry knew was a smile, though he couldn't see her face, of course, through the helmet of her pressure-suit.
"Little thoroughbred!" he exclaimed, half to himself.
"What did you say, Mr. Hunter?—Larry, I mean," she inquired.
"N—nothing," he replied uneasily.
"Fibber!" said Diane. "I heard you the first time!"
"Just wait till I get out of this darned suit!" said Larry.
"I guess I can wait that long!" she told him.
And if Professor Stevens heard any of this, it went in one ear and out the other, for he was thinking what a report he would have to make to his confreres when they got home—particularly with half a boatload of assorted idols for proof.
The Gate to Xoran
By Hal K. Wells
A strange man of metal comes to Earth on a dreadful mission.
He sat in a small half-darkened booth well over in the corner—the man with the strangely glowing blue-green eyes.
The booth was one of a score that circled the walls of the "Maori Hut," a popular night club in the San Fernando Valley some five miles over the hills from Hollywood.
It was nearly midnight. Half a dozen couples danced lazily in the central dancing space. Other couples remained tete-a-tete in the secluded booths.
In the entire room only two men were dining alone. One was the slender gray-haired little man with the weirdly glowing eyes. The other was Blair Gordon, a highly successful young attorney of Los Angeles. Both men had the unmistakable air of waiting for someone.
Blair Gordon's college days were not so far distant that he had yet lost any of the splendid physique that had made him an All-American tackle. In any physical combat with the slight gray-haired stranger, Gordon knew that he should be able to break the other in two with one hand.
Yet, as he studied the stranger from behind the potted palms that screened his own booth. Gordon was amazed to find himself slowly being overcome by an emotion of dread so intense that it verged upon sheer fear. There was something indescribably alien and utterly sinister in that dimly seen figure in the corner booth.
The faint eery light that glowed in the stranger's deep-set eyes was not the lambent flame seen in the chatoyant orbs of some night-prowling jungle beast. Rather was it the blue-green glow of phosphorescent witch-light that flickers and dances in the night mists above steaming tropical swamps.
The stranger's face was as classically perfect in its rugged outline as that of a Roman war-god, yet those perfect features seemed utterly lifeless. In the twenty minutes that he had been intently watching the stranger, Gordon would have sworn that the other's face had not moved by so much as the twitch of an eye-lash.
* * * * *
Then a new couple entered the Maori Hut, and Gordon promptly forgot all thought of the puzzlingly alien figure in the corner. The new arrivals were a vibrantly beautiful blond girl and a plump, sallow-faced man in the early forties. The girl was Leah Keith, Hollywood's latest screen sensation. The man was Dave Redding, her director.
A waiter seated Leah and her escort in a booth directly across the room from that of Gordon. It was a maneuver for which Gordon had tipped lavishly when he first came to the Hut.
A week ago Leah Keith's engagement to Blair Gordon had been abruptly ended by a trivial little quarrel that two volatile temperaments had fanned into flames which apparently made reconciliation impossible. A miserably lonely week had finally ended in Gordon's present trip to the Maori Hut. He knew that Leah often came there, and he had an overwhelming longing to at least see her again, even though his pride forced him to remain unseen.
Now, as he stared glumly at Leah through the palms that effectively screened his own booth, Gordon heartily regretted that he had ever come. The sight of Leah's clear fresh beauty merely made him realize what a fool he had been to let that ridiculous little quarrel come between them.
Then, with a sudden tingling thrill, Gordon realized that he was not the only one in the room who was interested in Leah and her escort.
Over in the half-darkened corner booth the eery stranger was staring at the girl with an intentness that made his weird eyes glow like miniature pools of shimmering blue-green fire. Again Gordon felt that vague impression of dread, as though he were in the presence of something utterly alien to all human experience.
* * * * *
Gordon turned his gaze back to Leah, then caught his breath sharply in sudden amaze. The necklace about Leah's throat was beginning to glow with the same uncanny blue-green light that shone in the stranger's eyes! Faint, yet unmistakable, the shimmering radiance pulsed from the necklace in an aura of nameless evil.
And with the coming of that aura of weird light at her throat, a strange trance was swiftly sweeping over Leah. She sat there now as rigidly motionless as some exquisite statue of ivory and jet.
Gordon stared at her in stark bewilderment. He knew the history of Leah's necklace. It was merely an oddity, and nothing more—a freak piece of costume jewelry made from fragments of an Arizona meteorite. Leah had worn the necklace a dozen times before, without any trace of the weird phenomena that were now occurring.
Dancers again thronged the floor to the blaring jazz of the negro orchestra while Gordon was still trying to force his whirling brain to a decision. He was certain that Leah was in deadly peril of some kind, yet the nature of that peril was too bizarre for his mind to imagine.
Then the stranger with the glowing eyes took matters into his own hands. He left his booth and began threading his way through the dancers toward Leah. As he watched the progress of that slight gray-haired figure Gordon refused to believe the evidence of his own eyes. The thing was too utterly absurd—yet Gordon was positive that the strong oak floor of the dancing space was visibly swaying and creaking beneath the stranger's mincing tread!
* * * * *
The stranger paused at Leah's booth only long enough to utter a brief low-voiced command. Then Leah, still in the grip of that strange trance, rose obediently from her seat to accompany him.
Dave Redding rose angrily to intercept her. The stranger seemed to barely brush the irate director with his finger tips, yet Redding reeled back as though struck by a pile-driver. Leah and the stranger started for the door. Redding scrambled to his feet again and hurried after them.
It was then that Gordon finally shook off the stupor of utter bewilderment that had held him. Springing from his booth, he rushed after the trio.
The dancers in his way delayed Gordon momentarily. Leah and the stranger were already gone when he reached the door. The narrow little entrance hallway to the Hut was deserted save for a figure sprawled there on the floor near the outer door.
It was the body of Dave Redding. Gordon shuddered as he glanced briefly down at the huddled figure. A single mighty blow from some unknown weapon had crumpled the director's entire face in, like the shattered shell of a broken egg.
* * * * *
Gordon charged on through the outer door just as a heavy sedan came careening out of the parking lot. He had a flashing glimpse of Leah and the stranger in the front seat of the big car.
Gordon raced for his own machine, a powerful low-slung roadster. A single vicious jab at the starting button, and the big motor leaped into roaring life. Gordon shot out from the parking lot onto the main boulevard. A hundred yards away the sedan was fleeing toward Hollywood.
Gordon tramped hard on the accelerator. His engine snarled with the unleashed fury of a hundred horsepower. The gap between the two cars swiftly lessened.
Then the stranger seemed to become aware for the first time that he was being followed. The next second the big sedan accelerated with the hurtling speed of a flying bullet. Gordon sent his own foot nearly to the floor. The roadster jumped to eighty miles an hour, yet the sedan continued to leave it remorselessly behind.
The two cars started up the northern slope of Cahuenga Pass with the sedan nearly two hundred yards ahead, and gaining all the time. Gordon wondered briefly if they were to flash down the other side of the Pass and on into Hollywood at their present mad speed.
Then at the summit of the Pass the sedan swerved abruptly to the right and fled west along the Mulholland Highway. Gordon's tires screamed as he swerved the roadster in hot pursuit.
* * * * *
The dark winding mountain highway was nearly deserted at that hour of the night. Save for an occasional automobile that swerved frantically to the side of the road to dodge the roaring onslaught of the racing cars, Gordon and the stranger had the road to themselves.
The stranger seemed no longer to be trying to leave his pursuer hopelessly behind. He allowed Gordon to come within a hundred yards of him. But that was as near as Gordon could get, is spite of the roadster's best efforts.
Half a dozen times Gordon trod savagely upon his accelerator in a desperate attempt to close the gap, but each time the sedan fled with the swift grace of a scudding phantom. Finally Gordon had to content himself with merely keeping his distance behind the glowing red tail-light of the car ahead.
They passed Laurel Canyon, and still the big sedan bored on to the west. Then finally, half a dozen miles beyond Laurel Canyon, the stranger abruptly left the main highway and started up a narrow private road to the crest of one of the lonely hills. Gordon slowly gained in the next two miles. When the road ended in a winding gravelled driveway into the grounds of what was apparently a private estate, the roadster was scarcely a dozen yards behind.
The stranger's features as he stood there stiffly erect in the vivid glare of the roadster's headlights were still as devoid of all expression as ever. The only things that really seemed alive in that masque of a face were the two eyes, glowing eery blue-green fire like twin entities of alien evil.
Gordon wasted no time in verbal sparring. He motioned briefly to Leah Keith's rigid form in the front seat of the sedan.
"Miss Keith is returning to Hollywood with me," he said curtly. "Will you let her go peaceably, or shall I—?" He left the question unfinished, but its threat was obvious.
"Or shall you do what?" asked the stranger quietly. There was an oddly metallic ring in his low even tones. His words were so precisely clipped that they suggested some origin more mechanical than human.
"Or shall I take Miss Keith with me by force?" Gordon flared angrily.
"You can try to take the lady by force—if you wish." There was an unmistakable jeering note in the metallic tones.
The taunt was the last thing needed to unleash Gordon's volatile temper. He stepped forward and swung a hard left hook for that expressionless masque of a face. But the blow never landed. The stranger dodged with uncanny swiftness. His answering gesture seemed merely the gentlest possible push with an outstretched hand, yet Gordon was sent reeling backward a full dozen steps by the terrific force of that apparently gentle blow.
* * * * *
Recovering himself, Gordon grimly returned to the attack. The stranger again flung out one hand in the contemptuous gesture with which one would brush away a troublesome fly, but this time Gordon was more cautious. He neatly dodged the stranger's blow, then swung a vicious right squarely for his adversary's unprotected jaw.
The blow smashed solidly home with all of Gordon's weight behind it. The stranger's jaw buckled and gave beneath that shattering impact. Then abruptly his entire face crumpled into distorted ruin. Gordon staggered back a step in sheer horror at the gruesome result of his blow.
The stranger flung a hand up to his shattered features. When his hand came away again, his whole face came away with it!
Gordon had one horror-stricken glimpse of a featureless blob of rubbery bluish-gray flesh in which fiendish eyes of blue-green fire blazed in malignant fury.
Then the stranger fumbled at his collar, ripping the linen swiftly away. Something lashed out from beneath his throat—a loathsome snake-like object, slender and forked at the end. For one ghastly moment, as the writhing tentacle swung into line with him, Gordon saw its forked ends glow strange fire—one a vivid blue, the other a sparkling green.
Then the world was abruptly blotted out for Blair Gordon.
* * * * *
Consciousness returned to Gordon as swiftly and painlessly as it had left him. For a moment he blinked stupidly in a dazed effort to comprehend the incredible scene before him.
He was seated in a chair over near the wall of a large room that was flooded with livid red light from a single globe overhead. Beside him sat Leah Keith, also staring with dazed eyes in an effort to comprehend her surroundings. Directly in front of them stood a figure of stark nightmare horror.
The weirdly glowing eyes identified the figure as that of the stranger at the Maori Hut, but there every point of resemblance ceased. Only the cleverest of facial masques and body padding could ever have enabled this monstrosity to pass unnoticed in a world of normal human beings.
Now that his disguise was completely stripped away, his slight frame was revealed as a grotesque parody of that of a human being, with arms and legs like pipe-stems, a bald oval head that merged with neckless rigidity directly into a heavy-shouldered body that tapered into an almost wasp-like slenderness at the waist. He was naked save for a loin cloth of some metallic fabric. His bluish-gray skin had a dull oily sheen strangely suggestive of fine grained flexible metal.
The creature's face was hideously unlike anything human. Beneath the glowing eyes was a small circular mouth orifice with a cluster of gill-like appendages on either side of it. Patches of lighter-colored skin on either side of the head seemed to serve as ears. From a point just under the head, where the throat of a human being would have been, dangled the foot-and-a-half long tentacle whose forked tip had sent Gordon into oblivion.
Behind the creature Gordon was dimly aware of a maze of complicated and utterly unfamiliar apparatus ranged along the opposite wall, giving the room the appearance of being a laboratory of some kind.
* * * * *
Gordon's obvious bewilderment seemed to amuse the bluish-gray monstrosity. "May I introduce myself?" he asked with a mocking note in his metallic voice. "I am Arlok of Xoran. I am an explorer of Space, and more particularly an Opener of Gates. My home is upon Xoran, which is one of the eleven major planets that circle about the giant blue-white sun that your astronomers call Rigel. I am here to open the Gate between your world and mine."
Gordon reached a reassuring hand over to Leah. All memory of their quarrel was obliterated in the face of their present peril. He felt her slender fingers twine firmly with his. The warm contact gave them both new courage.
"We of Xoran need your planet and intend to take possession of it," Arlok continued, "but the vast distance which separates Rigel from your solar system makes it impracticable to transport any considerable number of our people here in space-cars for, though our space-cars travel with practically the speed of light, it requires over five hundred and forty years for them to cross that great void. So I was sent as a lone pioneer to your Earth to do the work necessary here in order to open the Gate that will enable Xoran to cross the barrier in less than a minute of your time.
* * * * *
"That gate is the one through the fourth dimension, for Xoran and your planet in a four-dimensional universe are almost touching each other in spite of the great distance separating them in a three-dimensional universe. We of Xoran, being three-dimensional creatures like you Earthlings, can not even exist on a four-dimensional plane. But we can, by the use of apparatus to open a Gate, pass through a thin sector of the fourth dimension and emerge in a far distant part of our three-dimensional universe.
"The situation of our two worlds," Arlok continued, "is somewhat like that of two dots on opposite ends of a long strip of paper that is curved almost into a circle. To two-dimensional beings capable only of realizing and traveling along the two dimensions of the paper itself those dots might be many feet apart, yet in the third dimension straight across free space they might be separated by only the thousandth part of an inch. In order to take that short cut across the third dimension the two-dimensional creatures of the paper would have only to transform a small strip of the intervening space into a two-dimensional surface like their paper.
"They could, do this, of course, by the use of proper vibration-creating machinery, for all things in a material universe are merely a matter of vibration. We of Xoran plan to cross the barrier of the fourth dimension by creating a narrow strip of vibrations powerful enough to exactly match and nullify those of the fourth dimension itself. The result will be that this narrow strip will temporarily become an area of three dimensions only, an area over which we can safely pass from our world to yours."
* * * * *
Arlok indicated one of the pieces of apparatus along the opposite wall of the room. It was an intricate arrangement of finely wound coils with wires leading to scores of needle-like points which constantly shimmered and crackled with tiny blue-white flames. Thick cables ran to a bank of concave reflectors of some gleaming grayish metal.
"There is the apparatus which will supply the enormous power necessary to nullify the vibrations of the fourth dimensional barrier," Arlok explained. "It is a condenser and adapter of the cosmic force that you call the Millikan rays. In Xoran a similar apparatus is already set up and finished, but the Gate can only be opened by simultaneous actions from both sides of the barrier. That is why I was sent on my long journey through space to do the necessary work here. I am now nearly finished. A very few hours more will see the final opening of the Gate. Then the fighting hordes of Xoran can sweep through the barrier and overwhelm your planet.
"When the Gate from Xoran to a new planet is first opened," Arlok continued, "our scientists always like to have at least one pair of specimens of the new world's inhabitants sent through to them for experimental use. So to-night, while waiting for one of my final castings to cool, I improved the time by making a brief raid upon the place that you call the Maori Hut. The lady here seemed an excellent type of your Earthling women, and the meteoric iron in her necklace made a perfect focus for electric hypnosis. Her escort was too inferior a specimen to be of value to me so I killed him when he attempted to interfere. When you gave chase I lured you on until I could see whether you might be usable. You proved an excellent specimen, so I merely stunned you. Very soon now I shall be ready to send the two of you through the Gate to our scientists in Xoran."
* * * * *
A cold wave of sheer horror swept over Gordon. It was impossible to doubt the stark and deadly menace promised in the plan of this grim visitor from an alien universe—a menace that loomed not only for Gordon and Leah but for the teeming millions of a doomed and defenseless world.
"Let me show you Xoran," Arlok offered. "Then you may be better able to understand." He turned his back carelessly upon his two captives and strode over to the apparatus along the opposite wall.
Gordon longed to hurl himself upon the unprotected back of the retreating Xoranian, but he knew that any attempt of that kind would be suicidal. Arlok's deadly tentacle would strike him down before he was halfway across the room.
He searched his surroundings with desperate eyes for anything that might serve as a weapon. Then his pulse quickened with sudden hope. There on a small table near Leah was the familiar bulk of a .45 calibre revolver, loaded and ready for use. It was included in a miscellaneous collection of other small earthly tools and objects that Arlok had apparently collected for study.
There was an excellent chance that Leah might be able to secure the gun unobserved. Gordon pressed her fingers in a swift attempt at signalling, then jerked his head ever so slightly toward the table. A moment later the quick answering pressure of Leah's fingers told him that she had understood his message. From the corner of his eye Gordon saw Leah's other hand begin cautiously groping behind her for the revolver.
* * * * *
Then both Gordon and Leah froze into sudden immobility as Arlok faced them again from beside an apparatus slightly reminiscent of an earthly radio set. Arlok threw a switch, and a small bank of tubes glowed pale green. A yard-square plate of bluish-gray metal on the wall above the apparatus glowed with milky fluorescence.
"It is easy to penetrate the barrier with light waves," Arlok explained. "That is a Gate that can readily be opened from either side. It was through it that we first discovered your Earth."
Arlok threw a rheostat on to more power. The luminous plate cleared swiftly. "And there, Earthlings, is Xoran!" Arlok said proudly.
Leah and Gordon gasped in sheer amaze as the glowing plate became a veritable window into another world—a world of utter and alien terror.
The livid light of a giant red sun blazed mercilessly down upon a landscape from which every vestige of animal and plant life had apparently been stripped. Naked rocks and barren soil stretched illimitably to the far horizon in a vast monotony of utter desolation.
Arlok twirled the knob of the apparatus, and another scene flashed into view. In this scene great gleaming squares and cones of metal rose in towering clusters from the starkly barren land. Hordes of creatures like Arlok swarmed in and around the metal buildings. Giant machines whirled countless wheels in strange tasks. From a thousand great needle-like projections on the buildings spurted shimmering sheets of crackling flame, bathing the entire scene in a whirling mist of fiery vapors.
Gordon realized dimly that he must be looking into one of the cities of Xoran, but every detail of the chaotic whirl of activity was too utterly unfamiliar to carry any real significance to his bewildered brain. He was as hopelessly overwhelmed as an African savage would be if transported suddenly into the heart of Times Square.
* * * * *
Arlok again twirled the knob. The scene shifted, apparently to another planet. This world was still alive, with rich verdure and swarming millions of people strangely like those of Earth. But it was a doomed world. The dread Gate to Xoran had already been opened here. Legions of bluish-gray Xoranians were attacking the planet's inhabitants, and the attack of those metallic hosts was irresistible.
The slight bodies of the Xoranians seemed as impervious to bullets and missiles as though armor-plated. The frantic defense of the beleaguered people of the doomed planet caused hardly a casualty in the Xoranian ranks.
The attack of the Xoranians was hideously effective. Clouds of dense yellow fog belched from countless projectors in the hands of the bluish-gray hosts, and beneath that deadly miasma all animal and plant life on the doomed planet was crumbling, dying, and rotting into a liquid slime. Then even the slime was swiftly obliterated, and the Xoranians were left triumphant upon a world starkly desolate.
"That was one of the minor planets in the swarm that make up the solar system of the sun that your astronomers call Canopus," Arlok explained. "Our first task in conquering a world is to rid it of the unclean surface scum of animal and plant life. When this noxious surface mold is eliminated, the planet is then ready to furnish us sustenance, for we Xoranians live directly upon the metallic elements of the planet itself. Our bodies are of a substance of which your scientists have never even dreamed—deathless, invincible, living metal!"
* * * * *
Arlok again twirled the control of the apparatus and the scene was shifted back to the planet of Xoran, this time to the interior of what was apparently a vast laboratory. Here scores of Xoranian scientists were working upon captives who were pathetically like human beings of Earth itself, working with lethal gases and deadly liquids as human scientists might experiment upon noxious pests. The details of the scene were so utterly revolting, the tortures that were being inflicted so starkly horrible, that Leah and Gordon sank back in their chairs sick and shaken.
Arlok snapped off a switch, and the green light in the tubes died. "That last scene was the laboratory to which I shall send you two presently," he said callously as he started back across the room toward them.
Gordon lurched to his feet, his brain a seething whirl of hate in which all thought of caution was gone as he tensed his muscles to hurl himself upon that grim monstrosity from the bleak and desolate realm of Xoran.
Then he felt Leah tugging surreptitiously at his right hand. The next moment the bulk of something cold and hard met his fingers. It was the revolver. Leah had secured it while Arlok was busy with his inter-dimensional televisor.
Arlok was rapidly approaching them. Gordon hoped against hope that the menace of that deadly tentacle might be diverted for the fraction of a second necessary for him to get in a crippling shot. Leah seemed to divine his thought. She suddenly screamed hysterically and flung herself on the floor almost at Arlok's feet.
* * * * *
Arlok stopped in obvious wonder and bent over Leah. Gordon took instant advantage of the Xoranian's diverted attention. He whipped the revolver from behind him and fired point-blank at Arlok's unprotected head.
The bullet struck squarely, but Arlok was not even staggered. A tiny spot of bluish-gray skin upon his oval skull gleamed faintly for a moment under the bullet's impact. Then the heavy pellet of lead, as thoroughly flattened as though it had struck the triple armor of a battleship, dropped spent and harmless to the floor.
Arlok straightened swiftly. For the moment he seemed to have no thought of retaliating with his deadly tentacle. He merely stood there quite still with one thin arm thrown up to guard his glowing eyes.
Gordon sent the remainder of the revolver's bullets crashing home as fast as his finger could press the trigger. At that murderously short range the smashing rain of lead should have dropped a charging gorilla. But for all the effect Gordon's shots had upon the Xoranian, his ammunition might as well have been pellets of paper. Arlok's glossy hide merely, glowed momentarily in tiny patches as the bullets struck and flattened harmlessly—and that was all.
His last cartridge fired, Gordon flung the empty weapon squarely at the blue monstrosity's hideous face. Arlok made no attempt to dodge. The heavy revolver struck him high on the forehead, then rebounded harmlessly to the floor. Arlok paid no more attention to the blow than a man would to the casual touch of a wind-blown feather.
Gordon desperately flung himself forward upon the Xoranian in one last mad effort to overwhelm him. Arlok dodged Gordon's wild blows, then gently swept the Earth man into the embrace of his thin arms. For one helpless moment Gordon sensed the incredible strength and adamantine hardness of the Xoranian's slender figure, together with an overwhelming impression of colossal weight in that deceptively slight body.
* * * * *
Then Arlok contemptuously flung Gordon away from him. As Gordon staggered backward, Arlok's tentacle lashed upward and levelled upon him. Its twin tips again glowed brilliant green and livid blue. Instantly every muscle in Gordon's body was paralyzed. He stood there as rigid as a statue, his body completely deadened from the neck down. Beside him stood Leah, also frozen motionless in that same weird power.
"Earthling, you are beginning to try my patience," Arlok snapped. "Can you not realize that I am utterly invincible in any combat with you? The living metal of my body weighs over sixteen hundred pounds, as you measure weight. The strength inherent in that metal is sufficient to tear a hundred of your Earth men to shreds. But I do not even have to touch you to vanquish you. The electric content of my bodily structure is so infinitely superior to yours that with this tentacle-organ of mine I can instantly short-circuit the feeble currents of your nerve impulses and bring either paralysis or death as I choose.
"But enough of this!" Arlok broke off abruptly. "My materials are now ready, and it is time that I finished my work. I shall put you out of my way for a few hours until I am ready to send you through the Gate to the laboratories of Xoran."
The green and blue fire of the tentacle's tips flamed to dazzling brightness. The paralysis of Gordon's body swept swiftly over his brain. Black oblivion engulfed him.
* * * * *
When Gordon again recovered consciousness he found that he was lying on the floor of what was apparently a narrow hall, near the foot of a stairway. His hands were lashed tightly behind him, and his feet and legs were so firmly pinioned together that he could scarcely move.
Beside him lay Leah, also tightly bound. A short distance down the hall was the closed door of Arlok's work-room, recognizable by the thin line of red light gleaming beneath it.
Moonlight through a window at the rear of the hall made objects around Gordon fairly clear. He looked at Leah and saw tears glistening on her long lashes.
"Oh, Blair, I was afraid you'd never waken again," the girl sobbed. "I thought that fiend had killed you!" Her voice broke hysterically.
"Steady, darling," Gordon said soothingly. "We simply can't give up now, you know. If that monstrosity ever opens that accursed Gate of his our entire world is doomed. There must be some way to stop him. We've got to find that way and try it—even if it seems only one forlorn chance in a million."
* * * * *
Gordon shook his head to clear the numbness still lingering from the effect of Arlok's tentacle. The Xoranian seemed unable to produce a paralysis of any great duration with his weird natural weapon. Accordingly, he had been forced to bind his captives like two trussed fowls while he returned to his labors.
Lying close together as they were, it was a comparatively easy matter for them to get their bound hands within reach of each other, but after fifteen minutes of vain work Gordon realized that any attempt at untying the ropes was useless. Arlok's prodigious strength had drawn the knots so tight that no human power could ever loosen them.
Then Gordon suddenly thought of the one thing in his pockets that might help them. It was a tiny cigarette lighter, of the spring-trigger type. It was in his vest pocket completely out of reach of his bound hands, but there was a way out of that difficulty.
Gordon and Leah twisted and rolled their bodies like two contortionists until they succeeded in getting into such a position that Leah was able to get her teeth in the cloth of the vest pocket's edge. A moment of desperate tugging, then the fabric gave way. The lighter dropped from the torn pocket to the floor, where Leah retrieved it.
Then they twisted their bodies back to back. Leah managed to get the lighter flaming in her bound hands. Gordon groped in an effort to guide the ropes on his wrists over the tiny flickering flame.
* * * * *
Then there came the faint welcome odor of smoldering rope as the lighter's tiny flame bit into the bonds. Gordon bit his lips to suppress a cry of pain as the flame seared into his skin as well. The flame bit deeper into the rope. A single strand snapped.
Then another strand gave way. To Gordon the process seemed endless as the flame scorched rope and flesh alike. A long minute of lancing agony that seemed hours—then Gordon could stand no more. He tensed his muscles in one mighty agonized effort to end the torture of the flame.
The weakened rope gave way completely beneath that pain-maddened lunge. Gordon's hands were free. It was an easy matter now to use the lighter to finish freeing himself and Leah. They made their way swiftly back to the window at the rear of the hall. It slid silently upward. A moment later, and they were out in the brilliant moonlight—free.
They made their way around to the front of the house. Behind the drawn shades of one of the front rooms an eery glow of red light marked the location of Arlok's work-room. They heard the occasional clink of tools inside the room as the Xoranian diligently worked to complete his apparatus.
They crept stealthily up to where one of the French windows of Arlok's work-room swung slightly ajar. Through the narrow crevice they could see Arlok's grotesque back as he labored over the complex assembly of apparatus against the wall.
A heavy stone flung through the window would probably wreck that delicate mechanism completely, yet the two watchers knew that such a respite would be only a temporary one. As long as Arlok remained alive on this planet to build other gates to Xoran, Earth's eventual doom was certain. Complete destruction of Arlok himself was Earth's only hope of salvation.
* * * * *
The Xoranian seemed to be nearing the end of his labors. He left the apparatus momentarily and walked over to a work-bench where he picked up a slender rod-like tool. Donning a heavy glove to shield his left hand, he selected a small plate of bluish-gray metal, then pressed a switch in the handle of the tool in his right hand.
A blade of blinding white flame, seemingly as solid as a blade of metal, spurted for the length of a foot from the tool's tip. Arlok began cutting the plate with the flame, the blade shearing through the heavy metal as easily as a hot knife shears through butter.
The sight brought a sudden surge of exultant hope to Gordon. He swiftly drew Leah away from the window, far enough to the side that their low-voiced conversation could not be heard from inside the work-room.
"Leah, there is our one chance!" he explained excitedly. "That blue fiend is vulnerable, and that flame-tool of his is the weapon to reach his vulnerability. Did you notice how careful he was to shield his other hand with a glove before he turned the tool on? He can be hurt by that blade of flame, and probably hurt badly."
Leah nodded in quick understanding. "If I could lure him out of the room for just a moment, you could slip in through the window and get that flame-tool, Blair," she suggested eagerly.
"That might work," Gordon agreed reluctantly. "But, Leah, don't run any more risks than you absolutely have to!" He picked up a small rock. "Here, take this with you. Open the door into the hall and attract Arlok's attention by throwing the rock at his precious apparatus. Then the minute he sees you, try to escape out through the hall again. He'll leave his work to follow you. When he returns to his work-room I'll be in there waiting for him. And I'll be waiting with a weapon that can stab through even that armor-plated hide of his!"
They separated, Leah to enter the house, Gordon to return to the window.
* * * * *
Arlok was back over in front of the apparatus, fitting into place the piece of metal he had just cut. The flame-tool, its switch now turned off, was still on the work-bench.
Gordon's heart pounded with excitement as he crouched there with his eyes fixed upon the closed hall door. The minutes seemed to drag interminably. Then suddenly Gordon's muscles tensed. The knob of the hall door had turned ever so slightly. Leah was at her post!
The next moment the door was flung open with a violence that sent it slamming back against the wall. The slender figure of Leah stood framed in the opening, her dark eyes blazing as she flung one hand up to hurl her missile.
Arlok whirled just as Leah threw the rock straight at the intricate Gate-opening apparatus. With the speed of thought the Xoranian flung his own body over to shield his fragile instruments. The rock thudded harmlessly against his metallic chest.
Then Arlok's tentacle flung out like a striking cobra, its forked tip flaming blue and green fire as it focussed upon the open door. But Leah was already gone. Gordon heard her flying footsteps as she raced down the hall. Arlok promptly sped after her in swift pursuit.
As Arlok passed through the door into the hall Gordon flung himself into the room, and sped straight for the work-bench. He snatched the flame-tool up, then darted over to the wall by the door. He was not a second too soon. The heavy tread of Arlok's return was already audible in the hall just outside.
Gordon prepared to stake everything upon his one slim chance of disabling that fearful tentacle before Arlok could bring it into action. He pressed the tiny switch in the flame-tool's handle just as Arlok came through the door.
* * * * *
Arlok, startled by the glare of the flame-tool's blazing blade, whirled toward Gordon—but too late. That thin searing shaft of vivid flame had already struck squarely at the base of the Xoranian's tentacle. A seething spray of hissing sparks marked the place where the flame bit deeply home. Arlok screamed, a ghastly metallic note of anguish like nothing human.
The Xoranian's powerful hands clutched at Gordon, but he leaped lithely backward out of their reach. Then Gordon again attacked, the flame-tool's shining blade licking in and out like a rapier. The searing flame swept across one of Arlok's arms, and the Xoranian winced. Then the blade stabbed swiftly at Arlok's waist. Arlok half-doubled as he flinched back. Gordon shifted his aim with lightning speed and sent the blade of flame lashing in one accurate terrible stroke that caught Arlok squarely in the eyes.
Again Arlok screamed in intolerable agony as that tearing flame darkened forever his glowing eyes. In berserker fury the tortured Xoranian charged blindly toward Gordon. Gordon warily dodged to one side. Arlok, sightless, and with his tentacle crippled, still had enough power in that mighty metallic body of his to tear a hundred Earth men to pieces.
Gordon stung Arlok's shoulder with the flame, then desperately leaped to one side just in time to dodge a flailing blow that would have made pulp of his body had it landed.
Arlok went stark wild in his frenzied efforts to come to grips with his unseen adversary. Furniture crashed and splintered to kindling wood beneath his threshing feet. Even the stout walls of the room shivered and cracked as the incredible weight of Arlok's body caromed against them.
* * * * *
Gordon circled lithely around the crippled blue monstrosity like a timber wolf circling a wounded moose. He began concentrating his attack upon Arlok's left leg. Half a dozen deep slashes with the searing flame—then suddenly the thin leg crumpled and broke. Arlok crashed helplessly to the floor.
Gordon was now able to shift his attack to Arlok's head. Dodging the blindly flailing arms of the Xoranian, he stabbed again and again at that oval-shaped skull.
The searing thrusts began to have their effect. Arlok's convulsive movements became slower and weaker. Gordon sent the flame stabbing in a long final thrust in an attempt to pierce through to that alien metal brain.
With startling suddenness the flame burned its way home to some unknown center of life force in the oval skull. There was a brief but appalling gush of bright purple flame from Arlok's eye-sockets and mouth orifice. Then his twitching body stiffened. His bluish-gray hide darkened with incredible swiftness into a dull black. Arlok was dead.
Gordon, sickened at the grisly ending to the battle, snapped off the flame-tool and turned to search for Leah. He found her already standing in the hall door, alive, and unhurt.
* * * * *
"I escaped through the window at the end of the hall," she explained. "Arlok quit following me as soon as he saw that you too were gone from where he had left us tied." She shuddered as she looked down at the Xoranian's mangled body. "I saw most of your fight with him, Blair. It was terrible; awful. But, Blair, we've won!"
"Yes, and now we'll make sure of the fruits of our victory," Gordon said grimly, starting over toward the Gate-opening apparatus with the flame-tool in his hand. A very few minutes' work with the shearing blade of flame reduced the intricate apparatus to a mere tangled pile of twisted metal.
Arlok, Gate-opener of Xoran, was dead—and the Gate to that grim planet was now irrevocably closed!
"Blair, do you feel it too, that eery feeling of countless eyes still watching us from Xoran?" There was frank awe in Leah's half-whispered question. "You know Arlok said that they had watched us for centuries from their side of the barrier. I'm sure they're watching us now. Will they send another Opener of Gates to take up the work where Arlok failed?"
Gordon took Leah into his arms. "I don't know, dear," he admitted gravely. "They may send another messenger, but I doubt it. This world of ours has had its warning, and it will heed it. The watchers on Xoran must know that in the five hundred and forty years it would take their next messenger to get here, the Earth will have had more than enough time to prepare an adequate defense for even Xoran's menace. I doubt if there will ever again be an attempt made to open the Gate to Xoran."
The Eye of Allah
By C. D. Willard
On the fatal seventh of September a certain Secret Service man sat in the President's chair and—looked back into the Eye of Allah.
Blinky Collins' part in this matter was very brief. Blinky lasted just long enough to make a great discovery, to brag about it as was Blinky's way, and then pass on to find his reward in whatever hereafter is set apart for weak-minded crooks whose heads are not hard enough to withstand the crushing impact of a lead-filled pacifier.
The photograph studio of Blinky Collins was on the third floor of a disreputable building in an equally unsavory part of Chicago. There were no tinted pictures of beautiful blondes nor of stern, square-jawed men of affairs in Blinky's reception room. His clients, who came furtively there, were strongly opposed to having their pictures taken—they came for other purposes. For the photographic work of Mr. Collins was strictly commercial—and peculiar. There were fingerprints to be photographed and identified for purpose of private revenge, photographs of people to be merged and repictured in compromising closeness for reasons of blackmail. And even X-Ray photography was included in the scope of his work.
* * * * *
The great discovery came when a box was brought to the dingy room and Mr. Collins was asked to show what was inside it without the bother and inconvenience of disturbing lock and seals. The X-Ray machine sizzled above it, and a photographic plate below was developed to show a string of round discs that could easily have been pearls.
The temporary possessor of the box was pleased with the result—but Blinky was puzzled. For the developer had brought out an odd result. There were the pearls as expected, but, too, there was a small picture superimposed—a picture of a bald head and a body beneath seated beside a desk. The picture had been taken from above looking straight down, and head and desk were familiar.
Blinky knew them both. The odd part was that he knew also that both of them were at that instant on the ground floor of the same disreputable building, directly under and two floors below his workshop.
Like many great discoveries, this of Blinky's came as the result of an accident. He had monkeyed with the X-Ray generator and had made certain substitutions. And here was the result—a bald head and a desk, photographed plainly through two heavy wood floors. Blinky scratched his own head in deep thought. And then he repeated the operation.
This time there was a blonde head close to the bald one, and two people were close to the desk and to each other. Blinky knew then that there were financial possibilities in this new line of portrait work.
It was some time before the rat eyes of the inventor were able to see exactly what they wanted through this strange device, but Blinky learned. And he fitted a telescope back of the ray and found that he could look along it and see as if through a great funnel what was transpiring blocks and blocks away; he looked where he would, and brick walls or stone were like glass when the new ray struck through them.
Blinky never knew what he had—never dreamed of the tremendous potentialities in his oscillating ethereal ray that had a range and penetration beyond anything known. But he knew, in a vague way, that this ray was a channel for light waves to follow, and he learned that he could vary the range of the ray and that whatever light was shown at the end of that range came to him as clear and distinct as if he were there in the room.
He sat for hours, staring through the telescope. He would train the device upon a building across the street, then cut down the current until the unseen vibration penetrated inside the building. If there was nothing there of interest he would gradually increase the power, and the ray would extend out and still out into other rooms and beyond them to still others. Blinky had a lot of fun, but he never forgot the practical application of the device—practical, that is, from the distorted viewpoint of a warped mind.
* * * * *
"I've heard about your machine," said a pasty-faced man one day, as he sat in Blinky's room, "and I think it's a lot of hooey. But I'd give just one grand to know who is with the district attorney this minute."
"Where is he?" asked Blinky.
"Two blocks down the street, in the station house ... and if Pokey Barnard is with him, the lousy stool-pigeon—"
Blinky paid no attention to the other's opinion of one Pokey Barnard; he was busy with a sputtering blue light and a telescope behind a shield of heavy lead.
"Put your money on the table," he said, finally: "there's the dicks ... and there's Pokey. Take a look—"
It was some few minutes later that Blinky learned of another valuable feature in his ray. He was watching the district attorney when the pasty-faced man brushed against a hanging incandescent light. There was a bit of bare wire exposed, and as it swung into the ray the fuses in the Collins studio blew out instantly.
But the squinting eyes at the telescope had seen something first. They had seen the spare form of the district attorney throw itself from the chair as if it had been dealt a blow—or had received an electric shock.
Blinky put in new fuses—heavier ones—and tried it again on another subject. And again the man at the receiving end got a shot of current that sent him sprawling.
"Now what the devil—" demanded Blinky. He stood off and looked at the machine, the wire with its 110 volts, the invisible ray that was streaming out.
"It's insulated, the machine is," he told his caller, "so the juice won't shoot back if I keep my hands off; but why," he demanded profanely, "don't it short on the first thing it touches?"
* * * * *
He was picturing vaguely a ray like a big insulated cable, with light and current both traveling along a core at its center, cut off, insulated by the ray, so that only the bare end where the ray stopped could make contact.
"Some more of them damn electrons," he hazarded; then demanded of his caller: "But am I one hell of a smart guy? Or am I?"
There was no denying this fact. The pasty-faced man told Blinky with lurid emphasis just how smart. He had seen with his own eyes and this was too good to keep.
He paid his one grand and departed, first to make certain necessary arrangements for the untimely end of one Pokey Barnard, squealer, louse, et cetera, et cetera, and then to spread the glad news through the underworld of Collins' invention.
That was Blinky's big mistake, as was shown a few days later. Not many had taken seriously the account of the photographer's experiments, but there was one who had, as was evident. A bearded man, whose eyes stared somewhat wildly from beneath a shock of frowzy hair, entered the Collins work-room and locked the door behind him. His English was imperfect, but the heavy automatic in his hand could not be misunderstood. He forced the trembling inventor to give a demonstration, and the visitor's face showed every evidence of delight.
"The cur-rent," he demanded with careful words, "the electreek cur-rent, you shall do also. Yes?"
Again the automatic brought quick assent, and again the visitor showed his complete satisfaction. Showed it by slugging the inventor quietly and efficiently and packing the apparatus in the big suitcase he had brought.
Blinky Collins had been fond of that machine. He had found a form of television with uncounted possibilities, and it had been for him the perfect instrument of a blackmailing Peeping Tom; he had learned the secret of directed wireless transmission of power and had seen it as a means for annoying his enemies. Yet Blinky Collins—the late Blinky Collins—offered no least objection, when the bearded man walked off with the machine. His body, sprawled awkwardly in the corner, was quite dead....
* * * * *
And now, some two months later, in his Washington office, the Chief of the United States Secret Service pushed a paper across his desk to a waiting man and leaned back in his chair.
"What would you make of that, Del?" he asked.
Robert Delamater reached leisurely for the paper. He regarded it with sleepy, half-closed eyes.
There was a crude drawing of an eye at the top. Below was printed—not written—a message in careful, precise letters: "Take warning. The Eye of Allah is upon you. You shall instructions receive from time to time. Follow them. Obey."
Delamater laughed. "Why ask me what I think of a nut letter like that. You've had plenty of them just as crazy."
"This didn't come to me," said the Chief; "it was addressed to the President of the United States."
"Well, there will be others, and we will run the poor sap down. Nothing out of the ordinary I should say."
"That is what I thought—at first. Read this—" The big, heavy-set man pushed another and similar paper across the desk. "This one was addressed to the Secretary of State."
Delamater did not read it at once. He held both papers to the light; his fingers touched the edges only.
"No watermark," he mused; "ordinary white writing stock—sold in all the five and ten cent stores. Tried these for fingerprints I suppose?".
"Read it," suggested the Chief.
"Another picture of an eye," said Delamater aloud, and read: "'Warning. You are dealing with an emissary from a foreign power who is an unfriend of my country. See him no more. This is the first and last warning. The Eye of Allah watches.'
"And what is this below—? 'He did not care for your cigars, Mr. Secretary. Next time—but there must be no next time.'"
* * * * *
Delamater read slowly—lazily. He seemed only slightly interested except when he came to the odd conclusion of the note. But the Chief knew Delamater and knew how that slow indolence could give place to a feverish, alert concentration when work was to be done.
"Crazy as a loon," was the man's conclusion as he dropped the papers upon the desk.
"Crazy," his chief corrected, "like a fox! Read the last line again; then get this—
"The Secretary of State is meeting with a foreign agent who is here very much incog. Came in as a servant of a real ambassador. Slipped quietly into Washington, and not a soul knew he was here. He met the Secretary in a closed room; no one saw him come or leave—";
"Well, the Secretary tells me that in that room where nobody could see he offered this man a cigar. His visitor took it, tried to smoke it, apologized—and lit one of his own vile cigarettes."
"Hm-m!" Delamater sat a little straighter in his chair; his eyebrows were raised now in questioning astonishment. "Dictaphone? Some employee of the Department listening in?"
"Now that begins to be interesting," the other conceded. His eyes had lost their sleepy look. "Want me to take it on?"
"Later. Right now. I want you to take this visiting gentleman under your personal charge. Here is the name and the room and hotel where he is staying. He is to meet with the Secretary to-night—he knows where. You will get to him unobserved—absolutely unseen; I can leave that to you. Take him yourself to his appointment, and take him without a brass band. But have what men you want tail you and watch out for spies.... Then, when he is through, bring him back and deliver him safely to his room. Compray?"
"Right—give me Wilkins and Smeed. I rather think I can get this bird there and back without being seen, but perhaps they may catch Allah keeping tabs on us at that." He laughed amusedly as he took the paper with the name and address.
* * * * *
A waiter with pencil and order-pad might have been seen some hours later going as if from the kitchen to the ninth floor of a Washington hotel. And the same waiter, a few minutes later, was escorting a guest from a rear service-door to an inconspicuous car parked nearby. The waiter slipped behind the wheel.
A taxi, whose driver was half asleep, was parked a hundred feet behind them at the curb. As they drove away and no other sign of life was seen in the quiet street the driver of the taxi yawned ostentatiously and decided to seek a new stand. He neglected possible fares until a man he called Smeed hailed him a block farther on. They followed slowly after the first car ... and they trailed it again on its return after some hours.
"Safe as a church," they reported to the driver of the first car. "We'll swear that nobody was checking up on that trip."
And: "O. K." Delamater reported to his chief the next morning. "Put one over on this self-appointed Allah that time."
But the Chief did not reply: he was looking at a slip of paper like those he had shown his operative the day before. He tossed it to Delamater and took up the phone.
"To the Secretary of State," Delamater read. "You had your warning. Next time you disobey it shall be you who dies."
The signature was only the image of an eye.
* * * * *
The Chief was calling a number; Delamater recognized it as that of the hotel he had visited. "Manager, please, at once," the big man was saying.
He identified himself to the distant man. Then: "Please check up on the man in nine four seven. If he doesn't answer, enter the room and report at once—I will hold the phone...."
The man at the desk tapped steadily with a pencil; Robert Delamater sat quietly, tensely waiting. But some sixth sense told him what the answer would be. He was not surprised when the Chief repeated what the phone had whispered.
"Dead?... Yes!... Leave everything absolutely undisturbed. We will be right over."
"Get Doctor Brooks, Del," he said quietly; "the Eye of Allah was watching after all."
Robert Delamater was silent as they drove to the hotel. Where had he slipped? He trusted Smeed and Wilkins entirely; if they said his car had not been followed it had not. And the visitor had been disguised; he had seen to that. Then, where had this person stood—this being who called himself the Eye of Allah?
"Chief," he said finally. "I didn't slip—nor Wilkins or Smeed."
"Someone did," replied the big man, "and it wasn't the Eye of Allah, either."
The manager of the hotel was waiting to take them to the room. He unlocked the door with his pass key.