He stammered in the presence of the unnamable. His hesitancy caused the rapt attention of the throng that was waiting breathlessly for an explanation, to flicker back to the inexplicable. In the fraction of a second that their gaze had been diverted from the Thing to the professor, the object had shot forth another tentacle, gripping him round the neck and choking off his sentence with a horrid rasp that sounded like a death rattle.
Needless to say, the revolting process that had turned Bill Jones from a human being into a mindless automaton was repeated with Professor Ralston. It happened as before, too rapidly for intervention, too suddenly for the minds of the onlookers to shake off the paralysis of an unprecedented nightmare. But when the victim was thrown to the surface, when he stepped out, drained of the grayish smokelike essence, a tentacle still gripped his neck and another rested directly on top of his head. This latter tentacle, instead of absorbing from him, visibly poured into him what resembled a threadlike stream of violet light.
* * * * *
Facing the cowering audience with eyes staring glassily, still in the grip of the unknowable, Professor Ralston did an unbelievable thing. He resumed his lecture at the exact point of interruption! But he spoke with the tonelessness of a machine, a machine that pulsed to the will of a dictator, inhuman and inexorable!
"What you see before you," the Voice continued—the Voice that no longer echoed the thoughts of the professor—"is what you would call an amoeba, a giant amoeba. It is I—this amoeba, who am addressing you—children of an alien universe. It is I, who through this captured instrument of expression, whose queer language you can understand, am explaining my presence on your planet. I pour my thoughts into this specialised brain-box which I have previously drained of its meager thought-content." (Here the "honorable colleagues" nudged each other gleefully.) "I have so drained it for the purpose of analysis and that the flow of my own ideas may pass from my mind to yours unimpeded by any distortion that might otherwise be caused by their conflict with the thoughts of this individual.
"First I absorbed the brain-content of this being whom you call Bill Jones, but I found his mental instrument unavailable. It was technically untrained in the use of your words that would best convey my meaning. He possesses more of what you would call 'innate intelligence,' but he has not perfected the mechanical brain through whose operation this innate intelligence can be transmitted to others and, applied for practical advantage.
* * * * *
"Now this creature that I am using is, as you might say, full of sound without meaning. His brain is a lumber-room in which he has hoarded a conglomeration of clever and appropriate word-forms with which to disguise the paucity of his ideas, with which to express nothing! Yet the very abundance of the material in his storeroom furnishes a discriminating mind with excellent tools for the transportation of its ideas into other minds.
"Know, then, that I am not here by accident. I am a Space Wanderer, an explorer from a super-universe whose evolution has proceeded without variation along the line of your amoeba. Your evolution, as I perceive from an analysis of the brain-content of your professor, began its unfoldment in somewhat the same manner as our own. But in your smaller system, less perfectly adjusted than our own to the cosmic mechanism, a series of cataclysms occurred. In fact, your planetary system was itself the result of a catastrophe, or of what might have been a catastrophe, had the two great suns collided whose near approach caused the wrenching off of your planets. From this colossal accident, rare, indeed, in the annals of the stars, an endless chain of accidents was born, a chain of which this specimen, this professor, and the species that he represents, is one of the weakest links.
"Your infinite variety of species is directly due to the variety of adaptations necessitated by this train of accidents. In the super-universe from which I come, such derangements of the celestial machinery simply do not happen. For this reason, our evolution has unfolded harmoniously along one line of development, whereas yours has branched out into diversified and grotesque expressions of the Life-Principle. Your so-called highest manifestation of this principle, namely, your own species, is characterized by a great number of specialized organs. Through this very specialization of functions, however, you have forfeited your individual immortality, and it has come about that only your life-stream is immortal. The primal cell is inherently immortal, but death follows in the wake of specialization.
* * * * *
"We, the beings of this amoeba universe, are individually immortal. We have no highly specialized organs to break down under the stress of environment. When we want an organ, we create it. When it has served its purpose, we withdraw it into ourselves. We reach out our tentacles and draw to ourselves whatsoever we desire. Should a tentacle be destroyed, we can put forth another.
"Our universe is beautiful beyond the dreams of your most inspired poets. Whereas your landscapes, though lovely, are stationary, unchangeable except through herculean efforts, ours are Protean, eternally changing. With our own substance, we build our minarets of light, piercing the aura of infinity. At the bidding of our wills we create, preserve, destroy—only to build again more gloriously.
"We draw our sustenance from the primates, as do your plants, and we constantly replace the electronic base of these primates with our own emanations, in much the same manner as your nitrogenous plants revitalize your soil.
"While we create and withdraw organs at will, we have nothing to correspond to your five senses. We derive knowledge through one sense only, or, shall I say, a super-sense? We see and hear and touch and taste and smell and feel and know, not through any one organ, but through our whole structure. The homogeneous force of our omni-substance subjects the plural world to the processing of a powerful unity.
* * * * *
"We can dissolve our bodies at will, retaining only the permanent atom of our being, the seed of life dropped on the soil of our planet by Infinite Intelligence. We can propel this indestructible seed on light rays through the depths of space. We can visit the farthest universe with the velocity of light, since light is our conveyance. In reaching your little world, I have consumed a million years, for my world is a million light-years distant: yet to my race a million years is as one of your days.
"On arrival at any given destination, we can build our bodies from the elements of the foreign planet. We attain our knowledge of conditions on any given planet by absorbing the thought-content of the brains of a few representative members of its dominant race. Every well-balanced mind contains the experience of the race, the essence of the wisdom that the race-soul has gained during its residence in matter. We make this knowledge a part of our own thought-content, and thus the Universe lies like an open book before us.
"At the end of a given experiment in thought absorption, we return the borrowed mind-stuff to the brain of its possessor. We reward our subject for his momentary discomfiture by pouring into his body our splendid vitality. This lengthens his life expectancy immeasurably, by literally burning from his system the germs of actual or incipient ills that contaminate the blood-stream.
* * * * *
"This, I believe, will conclude my explanation, an explanation to which you, as a race in whom intelligence is beginning to dawn, are entitled. But you have a long road to travel yet. Your thought-channels are pitifully blocked and criss-crossed with nonsensical and inhibitory complexes that stand in the way of true progress. But you will work this out, for the Divine Spark that pulses through us of the Larger Universe, pulses also through you. That spark, once lighted, can never be extinguished, can never be swallowed up again in the primeval slime.
"There is nothing more that I can learn from you—nothing that I can teach you at this stage of your evolution. I have but one message to give you, one thought to leave with you—forge on! You are on the path, the stars are over you, their light is flashing into your souls the slogan of the Federated Suns beyond the frontiers of your little warring worlds. Forge on!"
The Voice died out like the chiming of a great bell receding into immeasurable distance. The supercilious tones of the professor had yielded to the sweetness and the light of the Greater Mind whose instrument he had momentarily become. It was charged at the last with a golden resonance that seemed to echo down vast spaceless corridors beyond the furthermost outposts of time.
* * * * *
As the Voice faded out into a sacramental silence, the strangely assorted throng, moved by a common impulse, lowered their heads as though in prayer. The great globe pulsed and shimmered throughout its sentient depths like a sea of liquid jewels. Then the tentacle that grasped the professor drew him back toward the scintillating nucleus. Simultaneously another arm reached out and grasped Bill Jones, who, during the strange lecture, had ceased his wooden soldier marching and had stood stiffly at attention.
The bodies of both men within the nucleus were encircled once more by the single current. From it again put forth the tentacles, cupping their heads, but the smokelike essence flowed back to them this time, and with it flowed a tiny threadlike stream of violet light. Then came the heaving motion when the shimmering currents caught the two men and tossed them forth unharmed but visibly dowered with the radiance of more abundant life. Their faces were positively glowing and their eyes were illuminated by a light that was surely not of earth.
Then, before the very eyes of the marveling people, the great globe began to dwindle. The jeweled lights intensified, concentrated, merged, until at last remained only a single spot no larger than a pin-head, but whose radiance was, notwithstanding, searing, excruciating. Then the spot leaped up—up into the heavens, whirling, dipping and circling as in a gesture of farewell, and finally soaring into invisibility with the blinding speed of light.
* * * * *
The whole wildly improbable occurrence might have been dismissed as a queer case of mass delusion, for such cases are not unknown to history, had it not been followed by a convincing aftermath.
The culmination of a series of startling coincidences, both ridiculous and tragic, at last brought men face to face with an incontestable fact: namely, that Bill Jones had emerged from his fiery baptism endowed with the thought-expressing facilities of Professor Ralston, while the professor was forced to struggle along with the meager educational appliances of Bill Jones!
In this ironic manner the Space-Wanderer had left unquestionable proof of his visit by rendering a tribute to "innate intelligence" and playing a Jovian Jest upon an educated fool—a neat transposition.
A Columbus from a vaster, kindlier universe had paused for a moment to learn the story of our pigmy system. He had brought us a message from the outermost citadels of life and had flashed out again on his aeonic voyage from everlasting unto everlasting.
FOR VACATION ADVENTURERS
Truth is stranger than fiction. Ask the Regular Army man who has soldiered in the far-off corners of the earth, gone "over the top" in action, and has experienced the thrill of service in the tropics or the sub-arctic.
Better yet, get an earful of real Astounding Stories yourself, at first hand this summer, as one of the thirty thousand young men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-four enjoying those thirty glorious days and nights as a student-camper at one of Uncle Sam's Citizens' Military Training Camps.
All of these Camps are pitched at Regular Army posts, and it is the custom for grizzled old-timers who have followed the Flag for many long years to drift down to "the boys" around campfire time each night and regale the student campers with thrilling, real life yarns of action and adventure in many strange and unusual circumstances.
It is not necessary for one to be a rich man's son in order to enjoy the manifold benefits of their Camps. Uncle Sam pays all the necessary bills including transportation, the best of food, bedding, laundry service and medical treatment if needed. And there is no obligation for future military service entailed by attendance at any of these Nation-wide CMT camps. Their primary mission is the upbuilding of American youth in health and good citizenship.
Detailed information, together with illustrated literature about the Citizens' Military Training Camp, may be obtained by addressing the CMTC Officer at the U.S. Army post nearest your home.
By Victor Rousseau
[Sidenote: Four destinies rocket through the strange Time-Space of the Fourth Dimension in Tode's marvelous Atom-Smasher.]
The "Vanishing Place"
"Look at that plane! That fellow's crazy! Took off with the wind behind him! He'll nose dive before he clears the clubhouse! He'll crash into those trees along the edge of the golf course!"
The group on the field at Westbury, Long Island, held their breaths as they watched James Dent take off in the wildest, most erratic flight that they had ever seen. Under lowering storm clouds, with the wind roaring half a hurricane behind him, Dent spiraled upward as if unconscious of the laws of Earthly gravity.
"I told you so! You ought to have stopped him, even if it is his private plane! A feller's got no business trying to break his neck! Look there! He's cleared those trees after all!"
James Dent had cleared them, and the clubhouse too, and was already disappearing across the Hempstead Plains, looking like a leaf whirling up in a winter storm. At a height of five hundred feet he sped eastward.
"Didn't tell you where he was going?"
"Nope, acted like a crazy man. Something on his mind sure. Wherever he's bound for, he'll never get there!"
* * * * *
But James Dent was already out of sight, and the little group dispersed. And Dent, winging his way due east, over the oak barrens of central Long Island, was conscious neither of the storm that howled about him nor of the excitement that his rash take-off had occasioned.
The rain lashed him in the open cockpit, the ground fog swirled about him, and, though it was still afternoon, there brooded a somber twilight over the wastes. But in his mind Dent was already anticipating his descent at the "Vanishing Place," as the natives called it near Peconic Bay.
The "Vanishing Place" was so called because of the terrible and inexplicable catastrophe that had occurred there five years previously. In the two-century-old farmhouse, Miles Parrish, the world's greatest authority on physical chemistry, had been conducting investigations into the structure of the atom.
James Dent and Lucius Tode had been associated with old Parrish in this work, which, carried to a successful issue, would revolutionize the social organization of the world. The energy locked up in the atom is so stupendous that, as Eddington indicated, a thimbleful of coal, disintegrated, would carry the Mauretania from England to America and back again. To unlock this energy would be to set man free from bondage, to restore the pristine leisure and happiness of Eden.
* * * * *
And because the three men were playing with deadly forces, of incalculable power, this deserted spot had been selected for the carrying on of the investigations. The old farmhouse had been converted into a laboratory. For days together the three had bent over their tubes and laboratory apparatus, hardly eating or sleeping. And the day had come when success had seemed almost within their grasp.
Dent had received six months' leave of absence from his duties at Columbia University in order to prosecute the experiments. As the weeks went by, and the blind track that the three were following opened into a clear road, a sort of madness settled upon every one of them.
The Planck-Bohr quantum theory that the energy of a body cannot vary continuously, but only by a certain finite amount, or exact multiples of this amount, had been the key that unlocked the door. But always it had been Lucius Tode who led the way. Tode was a graduate of the University of Virginia, and accounted one of the most brilliant minds of his generation. At thirty, he stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries.
Dark, handsome, fearless, with a will power that nothing seemed able to subdue, he had taken the leadership away from old Miles Parrish, who eagerly and without thought of his own reputation followed in his assistant's footsteps.
There were the three men—and there was the girl, Lucille Parrish, the child of Miles's old age. Seventeen, when the catastrophe occurred, she had come out to the deserted spot sometimes of a Sunday from her boarding school at Garden City.
And Tode had found time to make love to her when he rushed her back to her school in his high-powered foreign car!
Jim Dent had known nothing of that until after the catastrophe. Lucille had been afraid of him, afraid to open her mouth upon the subject even to her father. And she had been fascinated too, as a young girl may well be, when a fascinating man of thirty uses his arts to win her.
* * * * *
It was only by chance that Jim had failed to be involved in the hideous catastrophe that had stamped the old farmhouse with the name of "Vanishing Place" whenever the natives spoke of it.
"Two Killed in Laboratory Explosion!" was the heading in the next morning's paper which gave Jim his first intimation of the accident. He had been to Columbia overnight to look up a new publication that contained an article on the hydrogen spectrum.
It was only a long paragraph, and the names of Parrish and Tode meant nothing to the man who had written it. But Jim had taken train to Hempstead, taxied to the flying fields, and essayed his first plane ride to Peconic Bay, in the charge of a pilot.
A group of natives, three newspaper men and a Suffolk County policeman were near the spot where the farmhouse had been—near the spot, not on it.
For where the farmhouse had been was a great pool of stagnant water, black as ink, covering an expanse of perhaps three-quarters of an acre.
"No, sir, there was no explosion," said the officer. "At least, none of these fellows heard anything. Just a—you tell the Professor, Mr. Lumm."
"It was about half-past eight last night, Mr. Dent," said Andrew Lumm, who kept the village store a mile away. "Ground seemed to rock. Earthquake, I says to myself, holdin' on to the door. But it wasn't no earthquake. Too gentle for that. Nothin' broke, not even a plate. Then I says to Mrs. Lumm, 'They're gone, poor fellers, and I allus knowed it would be that way. It's lucky young Mr. Dent went out last night on the 7.15.'
"We hurried here, but there wasn't no sign of the place, jest a hole on the ground with a sort of sticky mud in it. Water's been fillin' in since then, but I guess it's reached its level now. They jest blowed themselves to bits, Mr. Dent."
"Tell him about the vi'let light, Andy," put in one of the bystanders.
"Yeah, like a pillar of vi'let fire that were, Mr. Dent. We seed it through the trees, but by the time we got here it was 'most gone. Gosh, that throwed a scare into some of us!"
"It was Mr. Tode's soul a-burnin'," squeaked Granpop Dawes. "I allus said that feller'd come to no good end."
The group shook their heads and remained silent. It was clear that, if they did not share Granpop Dawes's opinion, at least they considered it not without the bounds of plausibility. Lucius Tode had created a bad impression among the natives.
* * * * *
Jim Dent stooped and picked up something lying imbedded in the mud at the edge of the black pool, and slipped it into his pocket. He had been present at the inquest and had gone back to Columbia. That had been five years before.
Professor McDowd, the palaeontologist, had identified the object Jim had found as the milk molar of merychippus insignis, the miocene representative of the modern horse. And that had made Jim Dent think furiously.
The catastrophe must have been a gigantic one to have flung up that fossil tooth from strata far beneath the level of the earth's surface. More, there were even traces of archaean deposits around the borders of the pool, whose depth, in the center, was ascertained to be 164 feet.
Black, silent, uninhabited, unstirred save by a passing breeze, the pool had remained those five years past. The spot was shunned as haunted or accursed by the superstitious country folks. Dense underbrush had grown up around it.
Periodically, Jim had gone out to visit it. That was how he had come to invest in a private plane. It was only an hour to the flying-fields, and less than an hour from there to Peconic Bay. What he expected to achieve he did not know. In the back of his mind was the belief that some day he would light upon some clue that would tell something of the unusual catastrophe.
And then that afternoon he had been shaken to the depths when a message came to him in Lucille's voice over the telephone:
"I've heard from dad!"
* * * * *
Winging his way eastward through the storm, Jim Dent was mentally reconstructing all that had led up to the present moment.
Lucille had finished her high school course and gone into business life. Jim had found a position for her as secretary to a small group of physicists, who were conducting private investigations, a position for which her training well fitted her. She had done well. He had kept in touch with her.
Six months before, their relations had altered. They had realized that they were in love with each other. In the months that followed they had discovered all sorts of things about each other that neither had suspected, which might be summed up by saying that they had become all in all to each other.
It was so amazing, this transformation of ordinary friendship into radiant love, that they were still bewildered over it. They were to be married at the end of the year.
It was then that Lucille had first told Jim about Lucius's wooing, and her fear of the man. Apart from that, both had refrained, by tacit agreement, from making reference to the past.
And then, that afternoon, there sounded Lucille's voice over the telephone, "I've heard from dad!"
"From—your father? You're mistaken, dear!"
"No, Jim, I'm not mistaken. He called me on the 'phone two hours ago. I couldn't mistake his voice, and, besides, he called me "Lucy," like he used to do. He told me to come at once to the Vanishing Place, but not to tell a soul unless I wished to do him a great evil. Then he rang off."
"Where are you now?" asked Jim.
"I'm 'phoning from Amityville. I took the train immediately, but I was so frightened, and—and at last I decide I must tell you. I didn't think dad would have minded my telling you. So I got out. There's another train in a few minutes, and I shall go on to Hampton Bays and walk the two miles to the Vanishing Place. I—I'll meet you there."
"Lucille, wait! Can't you meet me somewhere else, and we'll go on together. I'll get my plane and—"
"Oh, I just can't wait, Jim! I'm in such terror that I won't find dad when I get there. And he told me to tell nobody. I—I'll meet you at the Vanishing Place, Jim."
And so great had been her agitation that with that arrangement Jim had had to rest content. He had taken a taxi out to the flying fields at once.
* * * * *
In half an hour he would know what had happened. And he was obsessed by the terror that he would not find Lucille or anything except the lonely pool.
That was why he opened the throttle and drove on wildly through the scurrying wraiths of mist, pierced by the tops of trees that at times rose dangerously near the spreading wings.
That gap in the trees was Lake Ronkokoma. Not far now! Jim would know soon. But as he flew, vague fears that had beset his mind since he had received Lucille's message began to crystallize into the single fear of Tode. If Parrish was really alive—why not Tode too?
Beneath the polish and the surface comradeship, Jim had always been conscious of some diablerie about the man, of some inner life of which he knew nothing. Something unscrupulous and relentless, something infinitely cruel—as when he had tested the Atom Smasher on a stray cur that had run into the laboratory, not for experimentation, but in mere ruthless savagery, converting the living beast instantly into a shapeless mass of flesh and bone.
And Tode had known more about the Atom Smasher—as they affectionately called the mechanism for releasing atomic energy—than old Parrish and he together. Suppose Lucille's story were true! Suppose old Parrish were actually alive, suppose Tode were responsible for some designed scheme which would, in the end place Lucille in his power!
Wild thoughts and fears—but Jim would soon know. And with throttle stretched to the limit he went roaring over the scrub oak toward Peconic Bay.
* * * * *
It was beginning to grow dark, almost too dark for landing. But now Jim could feel the tang of the salt wind upon his face. He slowed down. The fog was as thick as ever, but the scrub oak had given place to more open country. In a minute or two he ought to sight some landmark. Yes, he had overshot his mark, for suddenly, through a gap in the mists, he saw the line of breakers forming a white ridge upon the sand.
A mile southward! Jim knew where he was now, for he knew every curve of that shore. He banked and turned. And then he saw something that for an instant chilled his blood.
Not far away, and not far beneath him, a ghostly violet haze was spreading through the fog, and the fog itself was coiling back from it until it formed a dense white wall.
For a moment Jim's hand was paralysed upon the stick. The next, his decision was made. He closed his throttle and went down in a slow descent right toward the heart of that column of lavender smoke that seemed to be springing straight up out of the ground. "A pillar of violet fire!" It could not have been described better.
The plane dived through the dense wall of fog, which for a moment shut out the violet fire completely. Then Jim was through, and almost immediately beneath him lay the black and glassy surface of the pool. Out of the very heart of it rose the fire, burning like some infernal flame that consumed nothing, and between it and the fog was a space of almost translucent air, extending to the borders of the pool.
Jim began to circle the pool to find a landing-place. But as he looked down, the surface of the pool began to change its aspect.
* * * * *
In place of the unruffled calm, it began to work with some devil's yeast all around the central pillar of flame, until its depths seemed to be churned up in frothy masses and the movement extended almost to the circumference. Then the whole surface of the water began to tilt and sway with a slow, shimmering, undulatory movement, as if it was a giant roulette wheel in rotation.
And something was materializing out of the heart of the violet flame itself.
It was a face—a human face, with bestial features, distorted and enormously magnified through the substance in which it was. Such a face as might look back upon an observer out of one of those distorting mirrors at Coney Island, or some other place of popular amusement, but twisted and enlarged beyond conception, so that it covered half the area of a city block.
Curiously blurred, too, as if each atom of that face was in isolated motion on its own account. And beneath the face appeared the vague outlines of a hand, apparently manipulating some sort of infernal mechanism.
And that face, enlarged as it was out of all proportion, filled Jim's heart with greater horror than any face he had ever known.
For it was the visage of Lucius Tode, and on those huge and distorted features was something that looked like a diabolical smile.
* * * * *
Everything vanished. Jim was back in the surrounding wall of fog. Instinctively he banked again. He strove to drive the horror from his brain. He must circle, circle incessantly, in the hope of finding Lucille. She must have already arrived. But if she had not fallen into Tode's power, she would hear the roaring of the plane and manage to signal him.
He circled back into the clear space between the white and the violet, and now he saw that the effect upon the pool was still more pronounced. The waters were rising up in a rim all around, and yet not overflowing. They were standing up like a bowl of clay upon the potter's wheel, and down in the depths Jim could see the head and shoulders of Tode, much less magnified, more natural in appearance, and less blurred. And Tode was looking up at him and pointing that infernal mechanism at him—something that looked like the tube of a telescope.
Suddenly the plane shivered and stood still. The motor died abruptly. The stick went dead. And yet the plane did not fall. As if upheld by the same repulsive force that drove back the white fog, it simply hung suspended three hundred feet above the heart of the violet flame.
Then—there was no longer any plane. The stick had melted in Jim's hand, the wings dissolved like wreaths of mist. The entire body had disintegrated into nothingness. Jim sat suspended in the void, and felt himself very slowly descending into the violet column.
Down into the vortex of that bubbling pool, which rimmed him on all sides ... down into the central aperture out of which emerged the leering face of Tode! And as he dropped Jim heard, thin, faint, and very far away, the despairing cry of Lucille....
Old Friends—and Foes
Jim must have lapsed into unconsciousness, for when he opened his eyes there was a gap in his consciousness of the passage of time, though none in his memory. He opened his eyes, and instantly he remembered everything.
Only a brief interval could have elapsed, for it was not quite dark. The fog and the violet flame had cleared away. Overhead a few stars twinkled. Jim was lying on his side, half-buried in the black, slimy mud of the dried up pool.
There was nothing but the smooth, shelving mud basin, with the scrub oak surrounding it. Tode and the machine had vanished.
Jim pulled himself with an effort out of the sucking mud, and, heavily clogged with it, began to make his way toward the margin.
Stumbling, struggling through the viscid ooze, he shouted Lucille's name despairingly. But no answer came, and his cries only made the utter silence all about him seem more fearsome.
Exhausted by his efforts, he gained the edge of the pool at last, and stopped, trying to orientate himself. As he did so, he saw a human face peering at him out of a clump of scrub oak.
It was the face of an aged man, with a long white beard and rags of clothes that were festooned about him. Jim took a step toward it, shouting a challenge. Next moment it had hurled itself out of its shelter toward him, and two skeletonlike arms were twined about his shoulders, while the fingers worked upward toward his throat.
The face was that of a madman, crazed by fear. And Jim recognized it. It was the face of Professor Parrish.
Parrish, the trim, immaculate, clean-shaven, urbane old man, whose lectures, imbued with wit and scholarship, had always been the delight of his classes—Parrish reduced to this gibbering maniac! And yet Parrish himself, returned to the site of their experiments after five years!
* * * * *
So fierce was the old man's onset, so desperate his clutch, that for a half-minute or more Jim was reduced to fighting for his life. The clawing fingers, armed with long nails, furrowed Jim's throat, there was a terrific strength in the body, wasted though it was almost to a skeleton.
But it was only for a half-minute that old Parrish's endurance lasted. Suddenly the old man went limp and tottered forward, dropped upon the ground. Jim bent over him.
"Parrish, you know me! I'm Jim Dent!" he cried. "I came here to save you."
Parrish was muttering something. Jim caught the words "Tode," and "God help Lucille!"
"Parrish, I'm Jim Dent!" Jim cried again, and the old man, shuddering, opened his eyes and recognized him.
"Jim!" he muttered. "Jim Dent! Then where is she? I got away from that devil, found farmhouse empty, got telephone book, found her and 'phoned her. Told her to come. Save—Lucille!"
He fell back, his eyes closed. Jim crouched over the unconscious old man. He was in a state of utter perplexity. He could not quite gather what Parrish had been trying to tell him, and it was with difficulty that he could focus his mind upon the situation, so great had been the shock of finding his former chief in that condition.
What had become of his plane, and where was Lucille? Jim was positive that he had heard her cry for help out of the vortex in the water.
But there was no water, only the circle of black mud extended in the starlight.
Again and again Jim shouted Lucille's name, and his cries went echoing away through the scrub without result.
Jim looked down at the unconscious old man beside him. He must get Parrish away, get him to Andy Lumm's. He bent over him again and raised him in his arms.
* * * * *
Suddenly he heard two familiar sounds behind him, two dull thumps that sounded less like explosions than echoes, long drawn out, and receding into infinity. There was no other sound quite like them that he had ever heard.
They were the snap of the electrical discharge as the Atom Smasher began to operate, and why the snap had sounded like a heavy body falling a long distance away, was not known.
Tode had said one day, with what Jim had taken for sarcasm, that they represented the wave series of a single sound extended in time to make four-dimensional action, but Jim had never considered the explanation seriously.
That sound, bringing back all Jim's memories of their experiments, brought him to his feet sharply. He swung around. The surface of the pool was a bubbling, seething mass of mud and water. And over its surface that faint violet haze was beginning to spread.
In the center where the light was thickest, something like a gyroscope appeared to be revolving. Out of the gyroscope something was beginning to project—that infernal tube of Lucius Tode. And Jim knew that in the heart of the flame that enormous, distorted face of Lucius Tode would again be visible.
The human nervous system can only endure a certain amount of impact. The sight of that ghastly flame, already condensing into a violet pillar, was more than Jim could stand. He dragged old Parrish to his feet and started off with him into the thickest part of the undergrowth.
A fearful scream behind him stopped him at the very edge of the scrub. He looked back, still supporting the half-conscious old man in his arms. The violet flame was shooting up in a straight pillar, the whole central portion of the pool was dry, and the waters were heaped up all around it.
From the slightly elevated spot where Jim stood, he could see Tode holding Lucille in his arms in the very heart of the fire, which threw a pale, fluorescent light over their faces. Tode was wearing a spotted skin, like that of a leopard, and Lucille was in the blue frock that she had worn when Jim and she had dinner together two evenings before.
Jim dropped old Parrish, shouted in answer, and dashed back like a madman down the slope into the solid wall of water.
* * * * *
He fought his way desperately through that wall, which seemed of the consistency of soft rubber or treacle, as if some subtle change had taken place in its molecular isomers. It adhered to him without wetting him, and he plunged through it, hearing Lucille cry out again, and yet again.
And now he was through, and once more struggling over the viscid surface of the pond. Behind him he heard old Parrish blundering, and screeching at the top of his voice, but he paid no attention to him.
He could see Lucille more clearly, and the large, hazy outlines of Tode's features were beginning to assume the proper proportions. There was a diabolical leer upon Tode's face, unchanged during the five years since Jim had seen him last, except that it had become more evil, more powerful. The enormous and distorted face that Jim had seen had been simply due to the presence of some refracting medium.
The pillar of violet light was thinning, spreading out over the pool, but Jim could now see the scene more clearly than before, even as he rushed onward.
The machine was inside what looked like a flat boat, but more circular than a boat, and apparently was made of some metal resembling aluminum. Either from the metal hull or from the mechanism inside it there was emitted a pungent odor resembling chlorine.
The mechanism itself bore some resemblance to the old Atom Smasher of five years before, but it appeared to be immensely more complicated. Wheels of various sizes were set at every conceivable angle around the central tube, from which the violet light was emanating, and all were rotating and gyrating so fast that they looked like discs of light. The boat itself was trembling, and this movement appeared to be communicated to the boiling mud in the central part of the pool.
* * * * *
As Jim tried to leap down through the sucking mud to snatch Lucille from Tode, the latter stopped, straightened himself, and pointed a short tube at Jim's heart.
Jim felt as if an enormous, invisible force had struck him in the chest. It was apparently the same repulsive force that had driven back the waters. The shock was not a violent one. It did not throw him off his feet. It merely pushed him slowly and irresistibly backward.
And the whole picture was beginning to fade. Etched sharply in the violet light one moment, it now looked like a drawing that had been covered with tissue paper.
The outlines were dissolving into a haze—or, rather, each line seemed reproduced an infinite number of times, as the edge of a vibrating saw shows an infinitude of edges. The violet fire was becoming still more diffused. It hovered over the waters, a pale, flickering glow. And simultaneously the walls of water began to break and come surging forward.
Jim saw Lucille stretching out her arms toward him, and tried to struggle forward, but in vain. She cried out his name, and he put all his strength into that desperate futile struggle to reach her. But he was being borne backward by the invisible power in the tube. The rushing torrent was surging about his knees; grew waist deep: in another moment Jim was swimming for his life against the furious flood.
Suddenly, however, the tremendous pressure on his chest was relaxed. Tode had turned the tube away from him. He was leaning forward out of the boat and grasped old Parrish, who had been flung violently against it by the dissolving waters.
The same flood carried Jim to the boat's side. Here, however, the flood was only knee deep, owing to the repulsion still being exercised by the violet light, which was glimmering feebly. Jim found his feet and leaped into the craft. He grasped Lucille in his arms.
* * * * *
He turned to confront Tode, who had just dragged old Parrish over the side. The three men confronted one another.
"Turn that tube on me, and I'll jump into your damn machinery and bust it!" Jim shouted.
An ironical expression came on Tode's face. It was clear that he still considered himself master of the situation. "At the immediate moment, Dent, the lives of all of us depend upon your keeping absolutely still," he answered. "Take my advice and sit down!"
Jim saw Lucille's face, ghastly in the faint violet light that played about it. The girl had fainted. She was lying unconscious, her feet against the circular metal plate that protected the machinery, her head upon the rail that ran around the boat's upper edge. Tode, without waiting for Jim's answer, stepped over the plate and took his seat at a sort of instrument board with control levers and thumb screws that apparently controlled the needles on four dials. He touched a button, and instantly the violet light disappeared.
With its vanishing, the waves came surging forward, and lapped violently against the hull, as if about to overwhelm the vessel, which, however, seemed immovable. It simply rose higher in the water.
Jim understood the cause of this. Those gyroscopes would retain the hull in the same position against anything but a mechanical force strong enough to ruin it. He watched Tode as he sat at the instrument board, which was illuminated by two tiny lights of what looked like mercury-vapor. His face, handsome and cruel as ever, was tense as he manipulated the thumb screws. Beside him lay Parrish, faintly whimpering. The old man had evidently abandoned all hope of effecting his escape, or of rescuing his daughter.
It was unbearable to have to sit there, knowing that the three of them were absolutely at Tode's mercy, and yet there was nothing else to do.
* * * * *
Tode looked up with a saturnine smile. "It's a delicate operation to blur the present without shooting out a hundred years or so in time," he said, "but my micrometer's pretty accurate, Dent. Don't move, I caution you!" He smiled again. "Yes, Dent, time is something like the fourth dimension of space, as we believed in the old days, and I've proved it."
Jim saw Tode touch the screw that controlled the fourth dial, and instantly it was borne in on him that each of the dials controlled one spatial dimension. This fourth, then, was the time dimension!
Could it be true that Tode had solved the practical problem of traveling in time, theoretically implied since the discoveries of Einstein?
He had known in the old days that the Atom Smasher might be adapted to this purpose, but neither Parrish nor he had dreamed of turning aside from their endeavor to utilize it for the purpose of releasing atomic energy.
Thump! Thump! The familiar old sound, rushing back into memory after all those years, the release of the electrical discharge, echoing through infinity! The scrub around the pool blurred and was gone. A vast gray panorama extended itself on either side of them.
They were travelling—in space—and time too. Jim no longer doubted. And, chilled with horror, he sat there, his arm about Lucille's unconscious form.
Into the Infinite
How long he sat there he did not know. Minutes or hours seemed all the same to him. Nothing but that gray monochrome, of neither light nor darkness, that endless panorama of miles and years, blended together into this chaos!
But suddenly there came a shout from Tode. The blur ceased, the lights flickered. Again there sounded the two thumps of the electrical discharge. The vibrating mechanism grew steady. Above them, out of the grayness, a moon disclosed itself, then the pin-points of stars. All about them was an immense, sandy waste.
"Know where we are, Dent?" came Tode's chuckle.
Jim was not sufficiently master of himself to attempt to answer.
"We are on what will be the Russian steppes some fifty thousand years ahead of us in time," grinned Tode. "This is an interlude between two ice ages. Observe how pleasantly warm the climate is, for Russia. Unfortunately the receding glaciers carried off the top-soil, which accounts for the barrenness of the district, but in another century this country will be overgrown with ferns, and inhabited by the mastodon and wild horse, and a few enterprising palaeolithic hunters, who will come in to track them down and destroy them with their stone axes."
* * * * *
"I think you're the same sort of damn liar you always were, Tode," answered Jim—but without conviction. There was something terrific about that desolation. Nothing within a thousand miles of Long Island corresponded to it.
"You'll be convinced pretty quickly, when you see my specimen," answered Tode. "I let him off here on the way to the pool. He's not exactly presentable, and when I got the idea of picking up Lucille and taking her back with me, I thought it best not to let her see him. He didn't want to be let off. Was afraid I wouldn't pick him up again, and I'll admit it was a matter of pretty careful reckoning. But this is the place, almost to the yard.
"Yes, I've done some close reckoning, Dent, but the cleverest part of the business was letting old Parrish think he'd got away from me. I knew he'd telephone Lucille. You know, I always had the brains of the outfit, Dent," he continued, with a smirk of self-satisfaction.
He looked out of the boat. "And here, if I'm not mistaken, comes my specimen," he added.
* * * * *
Something was running across the steppes toward them. It came nearer, took human form. It was human! A man—but such a man as Jim had never seen before outside the covers of a book. And he recognised the race immediately.
It was a Neanderthal man, one of the race that co-existed with the highly developed Cro-Magnons some thirty thousand years ago. Man and not ape, though the face was bestial, and there were huge ridges above the eyebrows.
And if Jim had needed conviction, the sight of this gibbering creature, now climbing into the boat and fawning upon Tode, convinced him. For the Neanderthal man vanished from the scene long before the beginning of recorded history.
For a few moments a deathly faintness overcame him ... his eyes closed, he felt unconsciousness rushing in upon him like a black cloud.
"It's all right, Dent—don't look so scared!" came Tode's mocking voice.
Jim opened his eyes, shook off that cloud of darkness with an immense effort. The boat was throbbing violently as the wheels gyrated, the violet light had become a pillar as thick as a man, and shot straight up to a height of fifty feet, before it rolled away. Lucille was lying where she had been, her eyes still staring up unseeing at the stars. Old Parrish was whining and whimpering as he crouched in his place.
And at Tode's feet crouched the Neanderthal man, repulsive, bestial, even though hardly formidable, and filling the last vacant spot inside the boat. He was gibbering and mouthing as he fawned upon Tode and pressed his hand to his hairy face. He continued to crouch and looked up at his master with doglike eyes.
* * * * *
Repulsive, and yet man, not ape. Distinctly human, perhaps a little lower than the Australian aborigine, the Neanderthal showed by his reverence that the human faculty of worship existed in him.
"Meet Cain, one of my Drilgoes," said Tode, with a grin. "A faithful servant. I left him here to wait for me on the return journey. Cain's just my pet name for him because he subsists on the fruits of the earth, don't you, Cain?"
The Drilgo grunted, and pressed Tode's hand to his repulsive lips, which were fringed with a reddish beard. Suddenly Tode began to laugh uproariously. "Feel anything wrong with your head, Dent?" he asked.
Dent put up his hand and pulled away a quantity of charred hair. His forehead began to itch, and, rubbing his finger across it, he realized that his eyebrows were gone. Tode laughed still louder.
"You've kept your teeth by about two seconds' grace, Dent, but I shouldn't be surprised if you needed dental attention shortly," he said. "What a pity dentists won't be invented for another forty or fifty thousand years."
"You're a devil!" cried Jim.
"You see, the human body is very resistant to the Ray," Tode went on. "It almost seems as if there is an organizing principle within it. Even the animal tissues are resistant, though not to the same extent as the human ones. It takes about twenty seconds for the organized human form to be disintegrated. But hair and beaks and claws, being superficial matter, vanish almost as soon as the Ray is turned on them. Ten seconds more, and you'd have been obliterated, Dent, just as your plane was.
"Yes, rub your head. Your hair will probably grow again—if I decide to let you live. It rather depends upon what impression you make upon Lucille as a bald-headed hero. After all, I didn't invite you to accompany us. It's your own lookout."
* * * * *
Jim could find nothing to say to that. He was discovering more and more that they were all helpless in Tode's hands.
"Sit back!" snarled Tode suddenly. He gave the Drilgo a push that sent him sprawling into the bottom of the boat. "Dent, your life depends upon your absolute acquiescence to my proposals. I didn't like you particularly in the old days, any more than you liked me. I thought you were a fool. On the other hand, I've no active reason to hate you, at present. It may be that I can use you.
"Meanwhile we've got a longish journey before us, ten thousand years more, multiplied by the fourth power of two thousand miles. Seems simple? Well, I had to invent the mathematical process for it. Reckon in the gravitational attraction of the planets, and you'll begin to get an idea of the complexity of it. So, in vulgar parlance, we're not likely to arrive till morning."
He glanced at Lucille, who was still lying unconscious with Jim's arm about her. Then his eyes rose to meet Jim's, and a sneering smile played about his lips. That smile was the acknowledgment of their rivalry for the girl's affections. And it was more—it was a challenge.
Tode welcomed that rivalry because, Jim could see, he meant to keep him alive under conditions of servitude, to demonstrate to Lucille his superiority.
Tode turned his thumbscrews, and the two thuds resounded. The violet column sank down, the boat vibrated, the level stretch of land became a blur again. The moon and stars vanished. Once more the four were off on that terrific journey.
* * * * *
At first they seemed to be traversing space that was shot through by alternate light and darkness, so that at times Jim could see the other occupants of the boat clearly, while at other times there was only Tode visible at the instrument board, with the dark outlines of the Drilgo, Cain, sprawled at his feet. But soon these streaks seemed to come closer and closer together, until the duration of each was only a fraction of a second. And closer, until light and darkness blended into a universal gray. These, Jim knew, were the alternations of night and day.
They were traveling—incredible as it was—in time as well as space, though whether backward or forward Jim could not know. From the presence of the Neanderthal man, however, Jim was convinced that Tode was taking them back more thousands of years, into the beginnings of humanity.
A fearful journey! A madder journey than Jim could have conceived of, had he not been a participant in it. He was losing all sense of reality. He was hardly convinced that he would not awaken in New York, to discover that the whole episode had been a dream.
Was this Lucille, the girl he loved ... with whom he had dined in New York only a day or two before ... this unconscious form, stretched out on the deck of the weird ship that was rushing through eternity? Or, rather, it was they who were rushing through space and time upon a stationary ship! What was reality, and what was dream, then?
Tode called "Come over here, Dent! I want to talk to you!"
* * * * *
Jim picked his way over the metal floor of the round boat, came up to Tode, and sat down beside him above the sprawling form of the Drilgo, Cain.
"You were a fool to come here, Dent." Tode turned with a malicious smile from his seat at the instrument board. "You didn't have to come. I take it that you are in love with Lucille, you poor imbecile, and still cherish dreams of winning her. We'll take up that matter in due course.
"Do you think I've been idle during these five years of my exile? I've been too busy even to come back for the woman I was in love with. And do you know what I've been doing during all this hellish period? Charting courses, Dent! Mapping out all the planetary movements back for uncounted ages—roughly, crudely, of course, but the best I was able to. These are difficult seas to navigate, though they may not seem so. You fool," he added savagely, "why didn't you come in with me in the old days? I told you that the Atom Smasher could be used to travel through time, and you mocked at me as a dreamer.
"I chose my hour. When everything was ready, I set forth on the most desperate journey ever attempted by man. Talk of Columbus!—he had nothing on me. I tell you, Dent, I've been back to the Archaean Age, back to the time when nothing but crawling worms moved on the face of the earth. And I've been forward to the time when an errant planet will disrupt the earth into a shower of lava—and I nearly wrecked the boat. Dent.
"I've won, Dent! I've won! I've solved the problem that gives man immortality! All the epochs that have existed since God first formed the world are mine to play with! I have seen myself as a puling infant, and as a greybeard. I have made myself immortal, because, with this machine, I can set back the clock of time. I have found a land where I am worshipped as a god."
* * * * *
Tode's eyes glittered with maniacal fires. He went on in a voice of indescribable triumph:
"I'm a god there, Dent. Do you want to know where that land is? It is Atlantis, sunk beneath the waves nine thousand years before recorded history opened. It is Atlantis, from which the Cro-Magnons fled in their ships, to land on the coasts of Spain and France, and become the ancestors of modern man.
"In old Atlantis, still not wholly submerged, I have made myself a god. I have mastered the savage Drilgoes whom the Atlanteans oppressed. All the spoils of their ruined cities are at my disposal. And I came back to get Lucille, whom I had never ceased to love. Together Lucille and I will rule like god and goddess.
"Join me, Dent. I'm a god in Atlantis—a god, I tell you. The lesser races fear me as a supernatural being. Only the city remains uncaptured, but it is mine whenever I choose to take it. A god—a god—a god!"
Jim saw now what he had not realized before, that Tode was insane. It would, indeed, have been a miracle if he had been able to retain his sanity under such circumstances as he had described. His voice rose into a wild scream. Yes, Tode was mad—just such a madman as any of the old Roman emperors, drunk with power, each in his turn the sole ruler of the world.
"The Earth is mine!" Tode screamed. "Before the modern world was dreamed of, before the nations were created, Atlantis was the sole power that held dominion over the scattered tribes of mankind. And she is in my hand whenever I strike.
"Wealth incalculable, treasures such as man has never since seen, marvels of scientific discovery, flying machines that would make ours look foolish, paintings grander than have since been executed—all these things exist in the proud city that will shortly be at my command. And I have my Drilgoes, the inferior race, to serve me. They worship me because they know I am a god. Join me, Dent, and taste the joys of being one of the supreme rulers of the world."
* * * * *
In spite of his undoubted madness, there was such power in Tode's voice that Jim could not help believe what he had said.
"Well," snarled Tode. "You hesitate to give me your answer, Dent?"
"Lucille and I are engaged to be married," answered Jim, and the words were drawn from his lips almost against his will. "We love each other. I am not going to lie to you and then betray you, Tode."
The expression on Tode's face was demoniacal. He snatched up the deadly tube that contained the violet fire and turned it upon Jim. Again Jim felt that repulsive force pushing him back. He gasped for breath, and tensed his whole body in supreme resistance, while he tried to grapple with Tode in vain.
But suddenly Tode dropped the tube, and a roar of laughter broke from his lips.
"You fool!" he shouted. "I tell you I am a god, the one god, supreme above all. Do you think to match your puny will against my own? I tell you Lucille is mine. And for ever, Dent. Whenever we two have reached old age, all that will be necessary for us to do will be to turn this screw a hair's breadth back into the past, and we are both young again. By holding this vessel steady in four-dimensional space, I can achieve immortality."
"Yes, Tode," answered Jim, "but, you see, that's the one thing that you haven't been able to work out yet."
The words seemed to come automatically from Jim's lips. It was only after he had spoken them that he realized they were true. For a moment Tode glared at him; then suddenly, with a shriek of insane rage, he leaped from the instrument board and swung the ray tube with all his might.
Jim felt the blow descend with stunning force upon his head. He reeled, flung out his arms, and toppled forward, unconscious....
An intolerably bright light that seemed to sear his eyeballs was the first thing of which Jim was conscious. Then he became aware of his aching head, of a sense of utter lassitude, as if he had been bruised all over in some machine that had caught him up and held him in its grip for endless aeons.
At last, despite the pain in his eyes, he managed to get his eyelids open. He tried to struggle to his feet, only to discover that he was firmly bound with what appeared to be tough creepers, pliant as ropes.
After the lapse of a few minutes, during which he struggled with the receding waves of unconsciousness, he came to a realization of his surroundings. That light that had so distressed him—though the effects were now beginning to pass off—was a pillar of smoke and flame, shooting out of the crater of a volcano about a mile away, across a valley.
He was lying in the entrance to a cave, pegged out on his back, and bound by the tough creepers to the stakes driven into the ground. Up to the mouth of the cave grew huge tree-ferns, cattails, cycads, and such growths as existed in earlier ages in the warm, moist regions of the world.
Beneath the level of the cave a heavy white fog completely shrouded the valley, extending up to within a short distance of the volcano opposite. But on the upper slopes of the volcano the sunlight played, making its crater a sheen of glassy lava, intolerably bright.
Beyond the volcano Jim could see what looked like an expanse of ocean.
* * * * *
He groaned, and at the sound a creature came shambling forward, carrying what looked like a huge melon in either hand. Jim recognized the Drilgo, Cain.
Chattering and mumbling, Cain placed one of the fruits to Jim's mouth. It was a sort of bread-fruit, but he was too nauseated to eat, and rejected it with disgust. Cain offered him the second fruit.
It was a hollow gourd, the interior filled with a clear fluid. Jim drank greedily as the Drilgo put it to his lips. The contents were like water, but slightly acid. Jim felt refreshed. He looked about him.
The Drilgo uttered a chattering call, and immediately a host of the savages swarmed into the cave. Men—undoubtedly men, in spite of the brow ridges and the receding foreheads, carrying long spears, consisting of chipped and pointed heads of stone, with holes bored in them, through which long bands of creepers passed, fastening them firmly to the shaft.
Chattering and gesticulating, the Drilgoes surrounded Jim as he lay helpless on the ground. Their savage faces, their rolling eyes, the threatening gestures that they made with their spears, convinced Jim that his end was a foregone conclusion.
But suddenly a distant rumbling sound was heard, increasing rapidly in volume. The floor of the cave vibrated; masses of rock dropped from the walls. The light of the volcano across the valley was suddenly obscured in an immense cloud of black smoke. The twilight within the cave was succeeded by almost impenetrable darkness.
Shrieking in terror, the Drilgoes bolted, while Jim lay straining at his ropes, expecting each moment to be crushed by the masses of rock that were falling all about him.
Suddenly a soft whisper came to Jim through the darkness: "Jim! Are you safe! Where are you? I can't see you! Speak to me!"
It was Lucille's voice, and Jim called back, husky and tremulous in the sheer joy that had succeeded his anticipation of instant death.
* * * * *
Then he felt the girl kneeling at his side, and heard her hacking at his bonds. A whole minute passed before the stone knife was able to sever the last of the stout withes, however.
Then Jim was swaying on his feet, and Lucille's arms were about him, and for a few moments their fears were forgotten in the renewal of their love.
"I heard what that devil said to you last night," the girl said. "He means to kill you with awful tortures. He is away now, on some task or other, but he'll be back at any moment. We must get away at once—we three. Dad's in another cave not far away, and his guards bolted after the earthquake."
The earth was still rumbling, and the cavern still vibrating, but it was clear that there was no time to lose. As soon as the quake subsided the Drilgoes would return. Guided by Lucille, Jim groped his way through the cavern. The girl called softly at intervals, and presently Jim heard old Parrish's answering call. Then the old man's form appeared in silhouette against the dark.
"I've got Jim," Lucille whispered. "Are you ready, dad?"
"Yes, yes, I'm ready," chattered the old man. "Now's our chance. I know a place where we can hide in the thick forests, where the Ray of the Atlanteans cannot penetrate the mists. Let's go! Let's go!"
Gripping hands, the three started back toward the point where a faint patch of darkness showed out the entrance to the cavern. They were nearing it when another and more violent shock flung them upon their faces.
Huge masses of rock came hurtling down from the roof and sides of the cavern, and again the three seemed to escape by a miracle.
* * * * *
Suddenly a huge shaft of fire shot from the crater opposite, evolving into an inverted cone that made the whole land dazzlingly bright. It pierced the mists in the valley underneath, and by that light Jim could see a great wave of lava streaming down the mountain sides, like soup spilled out of a bowl.
A gush of black smoke followed, and the light went out.
"Now!" gasped Parrish, and, clinging to one another, the three darted out of the cavern's entrance. Another terrific shock sent them stumbling and reeling and sprawling down the side of the mountain. Jim heard old Parrish wailing, and, as the shock subsided, groped his way to his side.
"You hurt?" he shouted.
"Lucille, Lucille," moaned the old man. "She's dead! A big rock crushed her. I wish I was dead too."
Jim called Lucille's name frantically, and to his immense relief heard her crying faintly out of the darkness. He rushed to her side and held her in his arms.
"Where are you hit, darling?"
"I'm—all right," she panted. "I was stunned for a moment. I—can—go on now."
But she went limp in Jim's arms, and Jim picked her up and stood irresolute, until he heard Parrish shambling toward him over the heaving ground.
"She's not hurt, I think, only fainted," said Jim. "Which way, Parrish? You lead us."
"Down the slope," panted Parrish. "We'll be in the ferns in a minute. We can hide there for a while, till she's able to walk. God help us all! And I was once Professor of Physical Chemistry at Columbia!"
The outcry might have seemed comical under other circumstances; as it was, Jim heartily re-echoed old Parrish's sentiments in his heart.
The last shock was subsiding in faint earth tremors. The two men plunged down into the heavy fog, which quickly covered them, Jim carrying Lucille in his arms. He felt the ferny undergrowth all about him, the thick boles of tree-ferns emerged out of the mist.
"We can stop here for a while," panted Parrish. "Crouch down! They'll never find us in this fog, and in a few minutes, when Lucille's better, we can go on."
* * * * *
"You must tell me where we are and what our chances are," said Jim, after again ascertaining that Lucille was unharmed.
"I'll tell you, Dent, as quick as I can. It's the place where I've spent five years of hell as the slave of that devil, Tode. I never dreamed, when we were working on the old Atom Smasher, that he had adapted it to travel in the fourth dimension. He's taken us back twelve thousand years or so to the island of Atlantis. History hasn't begun yet. Atlantis is the only civilization in the world. The rest are Drilgoes, Neanderthal men, wandering in the forests, and still in their stone age.
"It's true, Dent, what old Plato learned from the Egyptian priests. Atlantis has been slowly sinking for thousands of years, and all that's left now is the one great island that we're on. Nearly all the Atlanteans, the Cro-Magnon men, have perished, except for a few who have crossed in ships to the coasts of France and Spain. They'll be the founders of modern Europe—Basques and Iberians, and Bretons and Welshmen. Our ancestors! It makes my brain reel to think of it!"
"Go on! Go on!" said Jim.
"There's a great city on the island, known as Atlantis too. As big as London or New York. With flying-machines and temples and art galleries and big ships that they're building to carry them away when the next subsidence comes. They know they're doomed, for every few days there's an eruption now.
"Tode means to make himself master of Atlantis, and transport it into another epoch by means of the Atom Smasher. But he's never managed to enter. He's made himself a god in the eyes of the Drilgoes, the savages who inhabit these forests. He's planning to lead them against the city, and he's got an army of thousands from all parts of the interior, who worship him as divine.
* * * * *
"The Atlanteans are unwarlike. They've forgotten how to fight in their thousands of years of peace. But they've got a Ray ten times as strong as Tode's, that brings instant death to everything it touches. It shrivels it up. It's a different principle. I don't understand it, but it's this Ray that keeps the Drilgoes from capturing the city.
"Tode's got a laboratory inside the cave, fitted up with apparatus that he brought from Chicago, the world capital of the year 3000 A. D., after disintegrating the atoms and recombining them. But he hasn't succeeded altogether. He hasn't learned everything. The future isn't quite clear, like the past. There's a dark cloud moves across the spectral lines and blurs them. I think it's the element of free will—or God!"
"I know," Jim answered. "He can't hold that boat steady in four-dimensional space, as he pretends he can. If he could, it would mean that man was wholly master of his destiny. He can't and he never will.
"There's an unknown quantity comes in, Parrish. It is God, and that's what's going to beat him in the end."
"I've not been as idle as Tode thinks," said Parrish, with a senile leer. "I know more about the Atom Smasher than he dreams of. He thinks me just an old fool, the remnants of whose brains are useful to him in his laboratory. That's why he's kept me alive so far. He'll find out his mistake," he chuckled. "I have something Tode doesn't dream of."
Suddenly Parrish's air of intense seriousness vanished. He chuckled and fumbled in his rags. Jim felt a small object like a lever pressed into his hand and then withdrawn.
"It's death, Dent," chuckled old Parrish. "The concentrated essence of the destructive principle. It's a lever I fitted into a concealed groove in the Atom Smasher unknown to Tode. This lever has a universal joint and connects with a hidden chamber, and when pulled will catapult the annihilated components of a small quantity of uranium in any direction we desire. The release of the slumbering energy of this uranium will produce an explosion of proportions beyond the wildest dreams of engineers—perhaps, one great enough to throw the Earth out of its orbit!"
"Uranium!... Breaking up its components!" gasped Jim. "You mean you can actually do that?"
"Yes!" chuckled Parrish. "I'm keeping it for the day when Tode becomes a god. When he's steadied the boat in time-space and halted the march of the past, and when he's got Lucille—then, Dent, I shall so pull the lever that it will release the energy straight at Tode—and destroy the Atom-Smasher, ourselves, and even, perhaps, the whole Earth!"
And he burst into a peal of such wild laughter that Jim realized the old man's wits were gone.
* * * * *
Was it true, that amazing story? It was difficult to know, and yet anything seemed possible in this amazing world into which Jim had suddenly been thrown.
The vast pall of smoke cast out by the volcano was beginning to subside. Slowly a spectral light began to filter through the valley. Through the fog Jim could see glimpses of the ferny undergrowth, the giant tree-ferns and cycads that towered aloft. It was like a picture of the earth when the mastodons, the grass-eaters and the meat-eaters disputed for its supremacy.
Jim bent over Lucille. He saw her stir, he heard her murmur his name. Suddenly she sat up, fixed her eyes on his, and shuddered.
"I'm all right, Jim. Let's go," she said. "I can walk now."
She staggered to her feet. Jim put out his hand to support her, but she shook her head. Jim touched old Parrish on the arm. He started and uttered a wild screech; then seemed to come to himself and rose.
But that screech of his was re-echoed from the mountainside above. Other voices took up the echoes. Lucille clutched at Jim in a frenzy of fear.
"The Drilgoes!" she whispered. "They're on our trail!"
Seizing old Parrish by the arm, Jim started to drag him into the recesses of the fern forest. Suddenly the bestial face of a Drilgo appeared.
A yell broke from the man's throat. The hairy arm shot back. Jim saw the stone tip of the long spear poised overhead. He leaped forward, delivering a blow in the man's midriff with all the strength of his right arm.
* * * * *
The Drilgo grunted and doubled forward, the spear falling from his hand. The heavy head of stone embedded itself in the soft ground, so that the spear remained upright. As the man collapsed he yelled at the top of his voice.
"This way! This way!" gibbered old Parrish, suddenly alert.
But now the undergrowth all about them was alive with Drilgoes. The three dodged and doubled like hunted hares. High overhead something began to clack with a sound like that made by a woodpecker drilling a tree, but infinitely louder.
And out of the void above came Tode's voice, shouting commands to the Drilgoes in their own language.
Suddenly a column of fire shot up from the volcano, infusing the white mists with a reddish glare. Overhead the three could see Tode. He was flying with a pair of mechanical wings strapped to his shoulders, not more than two hundred feet above them. With a shout of triumph he swooped down. In his hand was a small cylinder, about the mouth of which a phosphorescent violet light was beginning to play.
"I've got you, Dent," he screamed in triumph, hovering above the three, while the wings drummed and vibrated till they seemed the mere play of light and shadow about Tode's shoulders. "Halt, or I'll blast your body and soul to hell! Halt, or I'll kill her!"
The deadly tube was pointing steadily at Lucille's body as Tode hovered ten feet overhead, perfectly still save for the whirring wings. The three stopped dead, and Tode, with a shout of triumph, began calling the Drilgoes, who swarmed forward out of the undergrowth.
Huge brown bodies, nude save for their skins of jungle-cat or serpent, they emerged, quickly forming a ring about the three prisoners. Tode fluttered to the ground.
"Fools, did you think you could escape that way?" he asked. "As for you, Dent. I'm going to convince you of the reality of four-dimensional space as you would not be convinced in the old days. Do you know what I'm going to do with you? I'm going to strip the skin from you with the ray, and take you into the anatomical room at Columbia University and leave you there as an exhibit, Dent!"
Tode grinned like a madman. But Jim was looking past him, at something that had suddenly appeared upon the far horizon.
* * * * *
It was a round disc of bluish white, a disc like the moon, but slightly smaller, a disc that flickered as if it had an eyelid that was being winked repeatedly. Simultaneously screams broke from the throats of all the Drilgoes. They stampeded.
Tode whirled about and saw. With a curse he leaped into the air and whirred away.
Out of that disc a slender, blue-white beam shot suddenly, driving a pathway through the fog, and disclosing the dark depths of the valley.
"The Eye! The Eye!" screeched Parrish. "Down on the ground! Down! Down!"
He dropped, and Jim caught Lucille and flung himself headlong with her. To and fro overhead, but only a few feet above them, moved the searchlight. Shrieks broke from the Drilgoes' throats as they scattered through the jungle.
Everywhere that ray moved, trees and undergrowth simply disappeared. A bunch of Drilgoes, caught by it, were obliterated in an instant. Great gaps were left through the undergrowth as the ray passed.
It faded as quickly as it had come, and instantly old Parrish was on his feet, dragging at his daughter.
"Now! Now!" he babbled, heading along one of the burned tracks through the undergrowth.
Jim seized Lucille and the two raced in the wake of old Parrish. Behind them they could hear the Drilgoes shouting, but a dense, impenetrable darkness was already beginning to settle down over the valley. They lost the track and went crashing through the ferns, on and on until all was silence about them.
Suddenly Parrish went down like a log. He lay breathing heavily, completely exhausted. When Jim spoke to him a feeble muttering was the only answer. Jim and Lucille dropped to the ground exhausted beside him.
The Eye of Atlantis
For perhaps half an hour the three lay there, hearing nothing. It seemed to be night, for the darkness was impenetrable, save for the lurid flashes of fire from the volcano. Parrish, who was slowly recovering his strength, was mumbling incessantly. It was with difficulty that Jim recalled him to a realization of his surroundings.
"Where is the city of Atlantis?" he asked him.
"Over there," mumbled Parrish. "Behind the volcano. Why do you ask me?"
"I'm thinking of going there."
"Eh? Going there? You're mad. The Eye will see you, the Eye that can see for a hundred miles. They'll turn the Ray on you. Nothing is too small for the Eye. And they watch night and day."
"The Eye is off now."
"It's never off. The Eye is dark. It grows white only when they are about to use the Ray. Perhaps the Eye is watching us now."
"Nevertheless," said Jim, "I think we would do well to try to enter the city. We can't live here in the jungle at the mercy of these Drilgoes."
"It is impossible to enter. All strangers are killed by the Atlanteans."
"Dad," interposed Lucille, "I think we'd better do what Jim suggests. One of us must decide."
"My idea is that you take us to some place where we can get a view of the city," said Jim. "Then we can make up our minds what to do. We've got to get somewhere out of this jungle."
* * * * *
Parrish rose to his feet, mumbling. "If we go round the base of the volcano we can see Atlantis," he said. "It's always light there. In the daytime they drive away the fogs by some means they've got, and at night they have an artificial sun. But we'll be killed, we'll all be killed."
Mumbling and muttering, he began groping his way through the undergrowth in the direction of the volcano, whose flashes were again becoming more frequent, affording a means of directing their route. Obscure rumblings were again beginning to shake the earth. For an hour the three picked their way steadily upward through the ferns, until the ground became more open.
They were approaching the base of the volcano, whose side now towered above them, the upper part glassy with vitreous lava.
Suddenly Parrish, who was still leading, stopped and began to tremble with fear. Stepping to his side, Jim heard the low muttering of voices not far away.
Very cautiously he moved forward through the thin fern scrub, until the glow of burning embers caught his sight. He stopped, hearing the voices more distinctly, and again moved forward.
Three Drilgoes, huge, bestial men, and evidently an outpost, were squatting around the ashes, devouring something with noisy gusto.
Softly as Jim had moved, their acute ears had caught the sound of his footsteps. They rose, still holding what they were eating in their hands, and, grasping their stone spears, moved in three separate ways toward the edge of the clearing.
The man nearest Jim uttered a guttural exclamation and, after sniffing a moment, began to lope in his direction. Suddenly he stopped short, petrified with astonishment and fear at the sight of a man who, instinct told him, was neither Atlantean nor of his own kind.
* * * * *
Jim leaped, tackling him about the knees, and brought him heavily to the ground. As the Drilgo fell, the spear clattered from his hand, but from his snakeskin girdle he pulled a long, curved knife of chipped obsidian, sharp as a razor.
Jim grasped the Drilgo's wrist, but in a moment he saw that he was no match for the creature in strength. He drew back his right arm and delivered a punch to the solar plexus with all his strength.
As the Drilgo's hand grew limp he snatched away the knife. There was no helping what he did for the two others were close upon him.
A thrust, a slashing blow, and the Drilgo was weltering in his life-blood. A backward leap, and Jim evaded the flung spear by a hair's breadth.
Knife in hand he leaped forward, and, dodging in beneath the long shaft of the weapon, got in a slash that almost cut the Drilgo's body in two.
The third Drilgo, seeing his two companions in their death-throes, flung away his spear and fled with loud howls into the jungle.
Jim stepped back. Lucille and her father were already almost at his heels. "It's all right," he called. "Come this way!" He led them through the ferny growth in such a manner that they should not see the two dead bodies. Nevertheless, he felt that Lucille knew.
"Let's see what they were cooking," he said.
But again he turned quickly. He could not know for sure what flesh that was, roasting and scorching on the embers, and he had no desire to know. It might have been monkey, but ... he turned away, and as he did so, Parrish picked up several round objects that were lying a little distance away.
"These are good to eat," he said. "A sort of bread-fruit. I've lived on it for five years," he added with a sort of grotesque pathos.
They munched the fruit as they proceeded up the mountain, and found it satisfying. Parrish seemed more himself again, though he still muttered at intervals. Lucille clung closely to Jim as they proceeded.
* * * * *
They were treading on lava now, vitreous, and smooth as glass. It was impossible to proceed further in that direction. They turned their steps around the base in the direction of the sea.
After another hour, during which their way was lit by almost continuous lurid flashes from the crater, a patch of illumination, apparently out at sea, began to become visible. A half hour more, and they were rounding the volcano's base, and suddenly it burst upon them, a stupendous spectacle that drew an exclamation of amazement from Jim's lips.
That low, flat background was the sea, the sound of whose breakers was faintly audible. Between sea and land ran a narrow, slender causeway, perhaps a mile in length. And beyond that, set on a small island, was the most splendid city that Jim could have imagined.
Like New York—very like New York, with its mighty towers, but more symmetrical, sloping upward from the sea toward a towering rampart at the heart of it, crowned with huge domes and minarets and serpentine ramps and mighty blocks of stone that must have sheltered as many occupants as New York's highest skyscrapers.
The whole was snow-white, and gleamed softly in an artificial light dispensed from an enormous artificial planet that seemed to hover above the ramparts.
"God!" whispered Jim in awe as he gazed at the great city.
"You cannot cross that causeway," whimpered old Parrish. "It's death to try. One sweep of the Ray will blot out every living thing."
"Hush! Listen!" came from Lucille's lips. "Something's moving down there!"
* * * * *
The distant murmur of voices, the indescribable "feel" of the proximity of other human beings told Jim that they were in imminent danger. He glanced about him. A little overhead was an outcrop of enormous boulders, standing up like a little fortress above the smooth lava.
"Get behind there!" Jim whispered.
They turned and ran, slipping and stumbling up the smooth slope. Reaching the boulders, they ensconced themselves hastily behind them. Jim peered out through a crevice between two of the largest stones. The sound of moving things became more audible.
Then, as a flash of flame shot from the crater overhead, Jim saw a black human horde creeping like an array of ants around the base of the mountain not far beneath.
Just like an army of warrior ants it seemed to flow onward, in perfect order. And in the midst of it a faint violet light began to be visible.
Parrish seized Jim's arm, shaking with terror. "You know what that is, Dent?" he whimpered.
"It's Tode's Drilgoes, moving for a night attack upon Atlantis," answered Jim. "And that thing in the middle is the Atom Smasher."
* * * * *
It seemed hours before the last of the serried ranks of Drilgoes had passed. By the light of a lurid flash from the volcano Jim could see the column winding toward the causeway. Then all was shrouded in impenetrable darkness, save for the snow-soft city upon the island.
"What are we going to do?" chattered old Parrish. "I wish I was back in Tode's cave. He gave me food and let me help with his work sometimes. I'll die here. We'll never get away. We'll never get anywhere."
"We're safer here than anywhere else," answered Jim. "We'll have to stay till morning, or—God, look at that!"
Out of the ramparts of the city the round, blue-white disc of the Eye had suddenly disclosed itself. And simultaneously a violet flare shot up above the moving hosts of the Drilgoes in the middle of the causeway.
Out of the center of the Eye that blinding searchlight streamed. And the pillar of violet fire rose up to counter it, clove it in two, as a man cuts off the tentacle of a cuttlefish, and left it groping helplessly above the heads of the Drilgoes.
* * * * *
To and fro wavered the blue-white beam, and like a protective wall the violet column spread and extended, till the air was interlaced with the play of the two colors. Streaks of white shot through streaks of purple and black neutral clouds twirled, swirling in ghostlike forms. It was a scene inconceivably beautiful, and it was impossible to realize what must be happening out there.
Men must be dying, withering like stubble in the blue-white flames, whenever they caught them. And yet, under that play of colors, Jim could see the vast host crawling forward to the assault.
* * * * *
He held his breath. It was sublime and terrible, and on the result of that conflict depended—what? What difference, when all this was forgotten history, antedating the written records of the human race?
Then of a sudden the blue-white rays were seen to win. They were beating down the violet light. Like living fingers they pierced that protective wall, flinging it back, until only the tall central pillar remained. And then for the first time the sound of combat became audible.
A groan of despair, of defeat, of hopelessness. The black stream was recoiling, turning upon itself. In the vivid glare of the white light it could be seen dissolving, breaking into a thousand pieces, streaming back toward the land. And, as it broke, the blue-white light pursued, eating its way and blasting all it met. Atlantis had triumphed.
Another sound was audible. From the city it came, a whirring as of innumerable grasshoppers, increasing till it sounded once more like the tapping of innumerable woodpeckers. Suddenly the night broke into whirling balls of fire.
Lucille cried out. Jim leaped to his feet to see more clearly.
"It's men with wings," he cried. "Scores of them. They're hurling something at the Drilgoes!"
* * * * *
The clacking of the wing mechanism filled the air. Now the fugitives from the Drilgo host were streaming along the base of the mountain underneath, seeking the safety of the jungles, and over them, riding them, harrying them, flew the Atlantean birdmen, hurling their fiery balls. And where the balls fell, conflagrations of cold fire seemed to start and run like mercury, and shrivel up everything they touched.
But the birdmen were not without casualties of their own. Here and there one could be seen to drop, and then the massed Drilgoes would turn savagely upon him with their stone-pointed spears. The fight was coming very close now. The savage cries of the Drilgoes filled the night.
A ball of fire broke hardly fifty yards away from where the three were crouching. A birdman fluttered down like a wounded hawk and lay a-sprawl just underneath the rampart of boulders. Jim surmounted them, ran down the slope of the mountainside, and bent over the dying man. He was hideously wounded by the thrust of a Drilgo spear—whether because the mechanism had failed, or because he had swooped too low, Jim could not determine. As Jim bent over him he looked up at him.
A youth in his teens, with the face and build of a Greek warrior, a worthy ancestor of European man. Jim looked at him and shuddered. "My grandfather four hundred generations removed," he thought.
Seeing that this was no Drilgo, with eyes widened by the anticipation of death, the Atlantean smiled, and died.
Jim detached the straps that held the wings to his shoulders and examined them. They were multi-hinged, built of innumerable layers of laminated wood, which seemed to have been subjected to some special treatment. In the base of each, just where it fitted to the curve of the shoulder-blade, a tiny light was burning.
* * * * *
Jim looped the straps about his arms and walked back to the rampart. Old Parrish saw him and screamed. Lucille cried out.
"I'm going to try to get the Atom Smasher," said Jim, pointing to the thin spire of violet flame that was still visible in the center of the causeway. "It's our only chance. You must stay here. If I live, I'll return. If I don't return—"
But he knew that he must return. Nothing could kill him, because Lucille would be waiting for him behind that rampart of stones upon the bare, vitreous mountainside.
"I'm going to get the Atom Smasher," Jim repeated. "In these wings I'll be taken for Atlantean. I'll—bring it back." He spoke with faltering conviction. And yet there was nothing else to do. Everything depended upon his being able to bring back the Atom Smasher and take Lucille and her father away.
"I think you're right, Jim," answered Lucille. "We'll—wait here till you—come—back."
Her voice died away in a sob. Jim bent and kissed her. Then he began examining the mechanism of the wings. It did not appear difficult. A leather strap fastened around the body. Through this strap ran cords operated by levers upon the breast, and there was a knob in a groove that looked as if it controlled the starting of the mechanism.
"I'll be back," said Jim.
And suddenly the Eye appeared again, and with it there sounded once more the whir of wings.
"Down!" shouted Jim.
* * * * *
He was too late. A score of birdmen shot out of the dark and hovered over them. Next moment they had descended to the ground. Lucille and Parrish were seized, and Jim, struggling furiously, quickly found himself equally helpless in their grasp.
The accents of the Atlanteans as they spoke to one another were soft and liquid, their faces were refined and gentle, but their strength was that of athletes. Jim saw Lucille and Parrish lifted into the air; next moment he himself was raised in the arms of one of the birdmen, who shot upward like an arrow and headed a course back toward the city, carrying Jim as if he had been as light as a child.
In a great open space, flanked by temples and colonnades, the flight had come to rest. There, under the soft artificial light that made the whole city as bright as day, Jim, Lucille, and her father were set down before a sort of rostrum, on which were gathered the dignitaries of the city.
Jim's hopes were rising fast, for between the Atlanteans and the savage Drilgoes there was as much difference as between a modern American and a blackfellow from the Australian bush. These men were civilized to a degree that even modern America has not attained.
Nowhere was there a speck of dirt to be seen. Vehicles moved soundlessly along the wide streets on either side of this central meeting-place, and the whole city was roofed with glass, through which could be seen the brilliant moon and stars—invisible from the mist-filled valley without.
* * * * *
Soft garments of white wool clothed men and women alike, fashioned something like togas, but cut short at the knee, leaving the lower part of the leg bare and disclosing the sandaled feet. The hair was long and flowed about the shoulders. But what struck Jim most forcibly was the look of utter gentleness and benignity upon these faces.
"I guess we've fallen into pretty good hands after all," he whispered to Parrish.
But one of the dignitaries upon the platform, an elderly man with a face reminiscent of William Jennings Bryan in his inspired moments, was leaning forward out of his curved chair and addressing the old man, and, to Jim's astonishment, Parrish was answering.
But these were not the liquid accents of the Atlanteans. The words resembled the barking of a dog, and across Jim's brain there suddenly flashed the explanation. The dignitary was speaking in the tongue of the Drilgoes, which Parrish, of course, would have learned in his five years of captivity.
Suddenly Parrish turned to Jim. "He wants to know where we come from," he said. "I've told him from a far country. He thinks we're ambassadors from some of the parts of Europe that the Atlanteans who sailed away some years ago landed at. It's no use trying to explain—they don't seem to have succeeded in inventing an Atom Smasher for themselves."
Jim nodded, and the colloquy went on and on, while the Atlanteans listened with languid interest, their kind and smiling faces seeming to exude benignity. At length the session seemed to have ended.
Parrish wore a wide grin. "Everything's coming right, dear," he told Lucille. "The old chap says we are to be the guests of the city either for a night or for a week. It's something to do with the moon, and there seems to be a full moon to-night. Some quaint superstition or other. And then I guess we'll have a chance to get away in the Atom Smasher. I've learned something of the mechanism, and it won't be hard to operate it. We've fallen into good hands."
* * * * *
A squad of four soldiers or policemen, with shorter robes and what looked like truncheons in their hands, made signs to the three to accompany them. Amid mutual bows, the city's guests filled into a small court-way, closed at the further end, on which a number of Atlanteans were standing.
While Jim was wondering what the next move was to be, to his astonishment the whole courtyard began to rise slowly up the walls of the tall buildings on either side.
"An elevator!" gasped Lucille. "Now I do feel that everything is coming out all right, Jim, dear."
Jim did not question the psychology of this. He pressed her hand tenderly. Already Tode and the past were becoming a bad dream.
"Did you say anything about the Atom Smasher, Parrish?" he asked.
"No, I thought it better not to," replied the old scientist. "You see, they know it only as a force that neutralizes the blue-white ray. Best not to let them know we're sailing for home in it."
"I think that was wise," answered Jim, and just then the rising court-way came to a stop level with the top story of the great building at one side.
Smiling courteously, the guards invited the three to precede them inside an enormous hall, supported on pillars of gleaming stone resembling alabaster. In the center was a small, low table, triangular in shape, with three of the low, curved chairs. The guards invited the three to be seated.
Almost immediately smiling servitors brought in fruits on platters of porcelain, dishes of cooked vegetables, somewhat like the modern ones, but seasoned and flavored with delicious herbs. The staple dish was something like an oval banana, but infinitely more succulent. The three fell to and made a hearty meal, which was washed down with fine wines.
"We've certainly fallen into good hands," said Jim. "All we've got to do is to lie low, and look pleasant, and it won't be long before we get an opportunity to get hold of the Atom Smasher."
* * * * *
The guards, seeing that they had finished their meal, smilingly invited them to accompany them through a huge bronze door at one end of the hall. It swung back, disclosing complete darkness.
Jim felt Lucille's hand upon his arm. The girl was hesitating, and for a moment Jim hesitated too, half afraid of a fall into emptiness. Then he heard the footsteps of the guards ahead, and went on.
It was eery, moving there with the sound of feet in front of them, and, apart from that, utter silence. Then Lucille uttered a little cry.
"Jim, do you feel something pushing you?" she asked.
"There is something—" Jim swung around, but some invisible force continued to propel him forward. He moved sidewise, and the force gently corrected him. The sound of footsteps had ceased.
"What is it, Jim?" cried the girl. "Help me! Something's got hold of me!"
Old Parrish was struggling close beside them. Jim panted as he wrestled with the force, but his efforts were absolutely futile. Slowly, as if slid on wires, he was propelled forward, until a cushion of air seemed to block his further progress.
Dark as it was, and silent, Jim had the consciousness of other human beings about him, of a vast, unseen multitude that was watching him.
Suddenly the droning of a chant began to fill the place, as if a priest were intoning hymns. As that chant rose and fell, voices all about took up the echoing refrain. Jim tried to reach Lucille, but he could move his arm only a few inches against that resilient force pressing in on all sides of him.
Then, in an instant, a blinding, stabbing light shot through his eyeballs. He heard Lucille scream, old Parrish yelp, and, with eyelids screwed tight against the intolerable glare, fought once more desperately and ineffectively to reach Lucille's side.