* * * * *
Slowly Jim managed to unscrew his eyes. He began to realize that he was standing in what appeared to be an enormous amphitheatre. But high up, upon a narrow tongue of flooring that ran like a bridge from one end to the other, with Lucille on his right and Parrish on his left. Nothing visible seemed to be restraining them, and yet they were as securely held as if fastened with tight chains.
Jim's brain reeled as he looked down. Imagine a bridge about half-way up an amphitheatre of a hundred stories, the ground beneath packed with human beings no larger than ants, the whole of the vast interior lined with them, tier above tier, faces and forms increasing from pismire size below to the dimensions of the human form upon a level, and, again, fading almost to pin-points at the summit of the vast building, where the soft glow of the artificial light filtered through the glass of the roof.
He clutched at the air, felt the soft pressure of the force that was restraining him, looked at Lucille, and saw her half-unconscious with fear, leaning against it, leaning against that soft, resilient, cushionlike, invisible substance; looked at Parrish, whom the shock had thrown into a sort of semi-catalepsy—Parrish, mouthing and staring!
He looked forward to where the tongue of flooring ended. Here, upon a stage, flanked with huge carven figures, a group was gathered. At first he was unable to discern what was being enacted there, so brilliant was the light that glared overhead.
It was the Eye, a round disc perhaps ten feet in diameter, that all-seeing Eye of Atlantis that guarded the great city, but how it worked Jim was totally unable to discover. He saw, however, that it was blinking rapidly, the alternations being so swift that it was only just possible to be conscious of them. Perhaps the Eye was opening and closing ten times a second.
Jim strained his eyes to see what was taking place on the stage at the end of the tongue on which he stood. What was it? What were they doing there? And was that the captured Atom Smasher standing between what looked like grinning idols? A group of captured Drilgoes near it?
A shrill scream from Lucille echoed through the vast amphitheatre. Her eye had seen what Jim's had not yet seen—something that had shocked her into complete unconsciousness.
A marble figure, she stood leaning against the invisible force that kept her on her feet, and in those open, staring eyes was a look of ineffable horror.
* * * * *
Jim could see clearly now, for the light from the Eye was slowly diminishing in brilliancy, or else his own eyes were growing more accustomed to it. Those carven figures, forming a semi-circle upon the platform were figures of gods, squat, huge forms seeming to emerge out of the blocks of rock from which they had been fashioned.
Hideous, gruesome carvings they were, resembling some futuristic sculpture of to-day, for the artist who had fashioned them had given hardly more than a hint of the finished representation. It was rather as if the masses of rock that had been transported there had become vitalized, foreshadowing the dim yet awful beings that were some day to emerge from them.
Only the arms were clearly sculptured, and each of the half-dozen figures squatting upon its haunches in that semi-circle had four of them. Arms that protruded so as to form an interlacing network, and the fingers were long claws fashioned of some metal. Over the arms the shapeless heads beat down with a leering look, and from each mouth protruded a curved tongue.
A masterpiece of horror, that group, like the great stone figures of the Aztecs, or some of the hideous Indian gods. Seen under the glare of the Eye, they formed a background of horrible omen. In a flash it dawned upon Jim that these hideous figures might be gods of bloody sacrifice.
"That's why these people seem so gentle," he heard himself saying. "It's the—the contrast."
He pulled himself together. Again he tried to move towards Lucille, and again that invisible force restrained him.
Yes, it was the captured Atom Smasher upon the platform, and those forms grouped in front of the dignitaries were captured Drilgoes, a dozen or so of them. And the concealed priest was droning a chant again. Every other sound was hushed, but from each square foot of the great amphitheatre a pair of eyes was watching.
A myriad of eyes turned upon the platform! What was going to happen next?
* * * * *
Suddenly the priest's voice died away, and simultaneously the three dignitaries, who seemed to be officiating priests, from their solemn gestures, stepped backward, passing beneath the protruding arms of the idols. There sounded the deep whir of some mechanism somewhere, and the same invisible force that had Jim and his two companions in its control suddenly began to agitate the captive Drilgoes.
It was shuffling them! It was forcing them into line, pushing here and pulling there, in spite of the Drilgoes' terrified struggles. They writhed and twisted, groaning and clicking in abject terror as they wrestled with that unseen power, and all in vain. Slowly the foremost of the Drilgoes was propelled forward, inch by inch, until he stood immediately beneath the interlacing arms.
And what happened next filled Jim with sick horror and loathing. For of a sudden the arms began to move, the iron claws cut through the air—a shriek of terror and anguish broke from the Drilgo's mouth ... and he was no longer a man, but a clawed and pulped mass of human flesh!
"Aiah! Aiah! Aiah!" broke from the throats of the assembled multitude.
The weaving arms had stopped. From behind them an attendant was gathering up what had been the Drilgo in a basket. Then the mechanism had begun again, and again that shrill cry of the spectators was ringing in Jim's ears.
Louder still rose the shriek of old Parrish as he understood. Jim put forth all his strength in a mad effort to break free. A child would have had more chance in the grip of a giant. And each time the arms of the gods revolved, the unseen force pushed Jim, Lucille, and Parrish nearer the platform.
Now Jim understood. This horrible sacrifice was a part of the religion of the Atlanteans, and he, Lucille, and Parrish, were being reserved for the final spectacle.
And at the sight of Lucille beside him, stonily unconscious, and yet standing, and moving like a mechanical doll, in little forward jerks—at the sight of the girl, hardly six feet distant, and yet utterly beyond the touch of his finger-tips, Jim went mad. He would not shout; he closed his lips in pride of race, pride of that civilization that he had left twelve thousand years ahead of him. Not like the shrieking Drilgoes on the platform, howling as each of them in turn was forced into that maze of revolving knives. But he fought as a madman fights. He hammered at the resilient air, while the sweat ran down his face, he braced his feet upon the wooden tongue, and sought to stay his forward progress. And all the while that infernal force moved him steadily onward.
* * * * *
He was on the platform now. He was traveling the same route that the Drilgoes had taken. The unseen force was shuffling him, Lucille, and Parrish, pushing and pulling them. And, despite Jim's efforts, it was Lucille who was first of the three ... and Jim second ... and old Parrish third....
Jim heard Parrish's hoarse whisper behind him, "Death! Death! The uranium!" He was fumbling at his breast, but the significance of the words and gestures escaped him. He was staring ahead. Only three living Drilgoes of the whole number of prisoners remained alive, and suddenly it was borne in upon Jim that he knew the last of the three.
It was the Drilgo, Cain, who had been their companion in the Atom Smasher—there, not a dozen feet distant. Cain, his bestial face, with the ridged eyebrows and great jaws convulsed with terror and dripping sweat. Cain, immediately in front of Lucille.
"God, let her not wake! Let her never know!" Jim breathed. The agony would be but momentary. And there was nothing a man could not endure if he must. He could even endure to see Lucille become—what the Drilgoes had become. It would soon be over now.
The Eye was blinking overhead. The hideous stone faces of the Atlantean gods looked down in leering mockery. Another of the Drilgoes had gone the same route as the others. Cain was the second now, Lucille the third victim, and he, Jim, would be the fourth.
Gritting his teeth, Jim saw the next Drilgo propelled forward into the whirling knives. He saw the man fling up his arms, as if to shield his head—and then he was a man no longer, and the horrible knives revolved, and "Aiah! Aiah! Aiah!" cried the multitude.
Once more the mechanism whirred.... Once more the arms revolved. A howl of terror broke from Cain's lips as he was propelled onward....
Then suddenly the whirring stopped. The arms of the stone gods, with their hooked, razorlike claws, to which clung particles of flesh, were arrested in mid-air. Cain, unharmed, was leaning backward, his features set in a mask of awful fear.
Simultaneously Jim knew that the force which had held him in thrall was gone. He flung his arms out. He was free. He grasped Lucille, held her tightly against his breast, stood there drawing great, labored breaths, waiting—for what?
* * * * *
A film was creeping over his eyes, but he was aware that the Eye had suddenly gone out. And out of the dark the priest was chanting.
Then came a deep-drawn sigh from the spectators, followed by a ringing shout. In place of the Eye the full moon appeared, sailing overhead. And, holding off that deathly weakness, Jim understood. The sacrifice had ended; a new month had begun....
Back to Long Island
Jim, seated beside Lucille, was listening to Cain's gruntings and chucklings as he expounded the situation to old Parrish.
It was the day following the scene in the amphitheatre. The four had been escorted back along the tongue of flooring into a hall with walls of fretted stone and sumptuous colorings. The floor was strewn with rich rugs woven of some vegetable fibre. There were divans and low chairs. At brief intervals, servitors, always smiling, passed carrying trays with wines and foods. And in the corridors were always glimpses of the guards.
"It was the rising of the full moon saved our lives, Dent," Parrish explained. "It appears they have this sacrifice at each of the moon's phases. The victims, captives or criminals, are eaten by the priests. We've got a week's respite, Dent, and then—God help us."
Jim's arm tightened about Lucille, but the girl turned and smiled into his face. There was no longer any fear there. And Jim swore to himself that he would yet find some way of outwitting their devilish captors.
"What the devil are we supposed to be, criminals or what?" he asked her father. "Why do they smile at us all the time in that confounded way?"
Parrish questioned the Drilgo, but apparently he was unable to explain himself to him. "Maybe they think it an honor for us, Dent," he answered, "or maybe it's their idea of etiquette. Anyway, we four are to head the list when the moon's at the three-quarters. God, if only we could reach the Atom Smasher, I'm certain I could find out how it works!"
* * * * *
Jim had tried more than once to reach it. Through the colonnades at the end of the hall he could see the mechanism standing on the platform, always being inspected by half a dozen or so of the dignitaries of Atlantis. But all his attempts to cross that tongue of flooring had been vetoed by the guards.
They had presented their hands to him, palms outward, and on the palms were fine steel points, about two inches long, set into leather gauntlets. It had been impossible to try conclusions with them.
Two days went by. Once a group of dignitaries had entered the hall and, with smiles and profuse bows, inspected the prisoners. Then they had departed. And Jim had paced the floor, to and fro, thinking desperately.
There was no sort of weapon with which to hazard an attack. Jim knew that they were under the closest observation. He could only wait and hope. And if all else failed, he meant to hurl himself, with Lucille in his arms, off the tongue of floor into the depths below when their time came.
On the third morning, after a troubled sleep induced by very weariness, Jim was awakened by one of the guards, and started up to see one of the bowing dignitaries before him, and Parrish and Lucille sitting up among their rugs.
Bowing repeatedly, the smiling old man addressed some words to Jim, and then turned to Parrish.
"He says he wants you to show him the way the Atom Smasher works," said Parrish. "Now's our chance, Dent. He thinks it's simply an apparatus for neutralizing the blue-white ray. Don't let him guess—"
"I won't let him guess," Jim answered. "Tell him we'll go and show him—"
"I've told him, and he says only you are to go. He's suspicious. Say something quickly, Dent."
"Tell him," said Jim, "that I must have my two assistants and the lady. Tell him I may also need the help of some of his people. It requires many men to operate the machine."
* * * * *
Parrish translated, speaking in the Drilgo tongue, which was their only means of communication. The Atlantean considered. Then he spoke again.
"He says that we three men may go, but Lucille must be left behind," groaned Parrish.
"The answer is no," said Jim.
The old dignitary, who seemed somewhat crestfallen, departed with an expressive gesture. Jim and Parrish looked at each other.
"That's our end," groaned Parrish.
"No, he'll bite," answered Jim, with the first grin that had appeared on his countenance since their arrival. "Let's make our plans quickly. We must contrive to get Lucille inside the machine, under the pretense of assisting with the mechanism. And Cain, of course," he added, glancing at the goggly-eyed Drilgo. "You do your best to locate the starting mechanism, Parrish, and signal me the moment you're ready. We'll both leap in, and the four of us will sail—God, I don't care where we sail to, so long as we get away from here! Into eternity, if need be. But I hope it's Long Island!"
Back came the dignitary with two of the guards. Smiling at Jim, he indicated by signs that the three others might accompany him. The Atlanteans had bitten, as Jim had forecast.
The four proceeded along the hall and over the tongue of flooring. This time the force that had previously controlled their movements was not in action. At the farther end of the bridge they saw the group of dignitaries gathered about the Atom Smasher, examining it curiously. Over their heads the hooked arms of the hideous gods were raised. The Eye was darkened, as if with a curtain, and through the glass roof, high overhead, the sunlight streamed down upon the empty amphitheatre.
* * * * *
In spite of their smiles, the dignitaries of Atlantis were very much on the alert, as their tense attitudes denoted. Two more guards had appeared, and Jim saw that they were uncovering some apparatus at the base of the Eye. They were swinging a camera-like object toward him, its lens focused upon the Atom Smasher. It was not difficult to understand what was in the minds of the Atlanteans. The dignitaries were uneasy and mistrustful, and at the first suspicion of treachery they meant to loose the blue-white Ray contained in the apparatus, and blow the Atom Smasher and the group about it to destruction.
Jim intercepted a sign from Parrish, indicating that he was to make pretense of assisting him. He bent over the machine, Lucille beside him. Parrish was busily examining the wheels and levers. He was adjusting the thumbscrews, moving the needles along the dials.
One of the Atlanteans spoke, and Cain translated into "Drilgo" for Parrish's benefit. Parrish answered. Then, without raising his head, the old man said quietly, "I've located the starting lever, Dent. You and Lucille get inside quickly and pretend you're doing something to the machinery."
They stepped over the bow of the boat and stood beside Parrish, who continued examining the wheels. "We mustn't forget Cain," whispered the girl to her father. "Oh, I hope he understands!"
But there was no direct evidence that Cain did understand, and Parrish dared not warn him in "Drilgo," for fear one of the Atlanteans might understand the language. Cain was standing close beside the boat. But he was not in the boat.
Again one of the Atlanteans shot a question at Parrish. Parrish beckoned to Cain, and awaited the translation. He answered.
Each moment was growing tenser. It was impossible that the Atlanteans could fail to understand what was being planned. The only saving chance was that they did not realize the possibilities of escape that the vessel offered. A full minute went by.
* * * * *
Suddenly Parrish raised his head. "I've got it fixed, I think, Dent," he said. "I'm going to count. When I reach 'three,' seize Cain and pull him aboard."
Jim nodded. The uneasiness was increasing. The guards at the camera-like object were each holding some sort of mechanical accessory in their hands. It looked like a small sphere of glass, and it connected with the apparatus by means of a hollow tube of fibre. Jim guessed that in an instant the Ray could be made to dart out of the lens. It would be quick work—as nearly as possible instantaneous work.
"Ready, Dent?" asked Parrish in an even voice. In this crisis the old man had become astonishingly calm. He seemed the calmest of the lot. "One!"
Jim beckoned to Cain, who came toward him, his eyes goggling in inquiry.
Jim reached out and took Cain by the arm. There was a sharp question from the Atlantean who had spoken before.
With all his force Jim yanked Cain over the edge of the boat. The Drilgo stumbled and fell headlong with a howl of terror. But headlong—inside.
What happened was practically instantaneous. A sudden whir of the mechanism, a violet glow from the funnel, the smell of chlorine—a flash of blinding blue-white light. The Atlantean guards had fired—a quarter-second too late!
The thump, thump of the electrical discharge died away. The four were in the boat, whirling away through space. Cain was rising to his knees, a woe-begone expression on his face. And there was a clean cut, with charred, black edges along one side of the boat, showing how near the Atlanteans had come to success.
* * * * *
The relief, after the hideous suspense of the past days, was almost too much for the three white people. "We're free, we're going back home!" cried Jim exultantly, as he caught Lucille in his arms. And she surrendered her lips to his, while the tears streamed down her checks. Old Parrish, at the instrument board, looked up, smiling and chuckling. Even Cain, understanding that they were not to be hacked to bits with knives, gurgled and grinned all over his black face.
"How long will it take us to get back?" Jim asked Parrish after a while.
"I—I'm not quite sure, my boy," the old man replied. "You see—I haven't quite familiarized myself with the machine as yet."
"But we'll get back all right?" asked Jim.
"Well, we—we're headed in the right direction," answered Parrish. "You see, my boy, it's rather an intricate table of logarithmic calculations that that scoundrel has pasted on this board. The great danger appears to be that of coming within the orbit of the giant planet Jupiter. Of course, I'm trying to keep within the orbit of the Earth, but there is a danger of being deflected onto Pallas, Ceres, or one of the smaller asteroids, and finding ourselves upon a rock in space."
Jim and Lucille looked at Parrish in consternation. "But you don't have to leave the Earth, do you?" Jim asked.
"Unfortunately, it's pretty hard sticking to the Earth, my lad," said Parrish. "You see, Earth has moved a good many million miles through space since the time of Atlantis."
But both Jim and Lucille noticed that Parrish was already speaking of Atlantis as if it was in the past. They drew a hopeful augury from that. And then there was nothing to do but resign themselves to that universal greyness—and to hope.
* * * * *
They noticed that Cain seemed to be watching Parrish's movements with unusual interest. The Neanderthal man seemed fascinated by the play of the dials, the whir of the wheels and gyroscopes.
"Are you setting a course, dad?" asked Lucille presently. "I mean, do you know just where we are?"
"To tell you the truth, my dear," answered her father, "I don't. I'm relying on some markings that Tode made on the chart—certain combinations of figures. God only knows where they'll take us to. But I'm hoping that by following them we shall find ourselves back on Long Island in the year 1930.
"No, that rascal could hardly have written down those figures to no purpose. They seem to me to comprise a course, both going and returning. But the calculations are very intricate, especially in the time dimension. I've nearly reached the last row now. Then, we shall have arrived, or—we sha'n't."
Jim and Lucille sat down again. There was nothing that they could do. But somehow their hopes of reaching Long Island in the year of grace 1930 had grown exceedingly slim. Everything depended upon whether or not Tode had meant those figures to represent the course back to the starting point or not.
A desperate hope—that was all that remained to them. They watched Parrish as his eyes wandered along the rows of figures, while his fingers moved the micrometer screws. And then he looked up.
"We're reaching the end of our course," he said. "We're going to land somewhere. God knows where it will be. We must hope—that's all that's left us."
His hands dropped from the dials. He pressed a lever. The blur of nights and days began to slow. A column of vivid violet light shot from the funnel.
"Grip tight!" shouted Parrish.
Thump, thump! The Atom Smasher was vibrating violently. A jar threw Jim against Lucille. It was coming to a standstill. Trees appeared. Jim uttered a shout. He stepped across to Parrish and wrung his hand. He put his arms about Lucille and kissed her.
They were back at the Vanishing Place, and all their sufferings seemed to be of the past....
A Fruitless Journey
"Why don't you stop the boat, Parrish?"
"I'm trying to, lad!"
The Atom Smasher was still vibrating, even more violently than before. A column of violet light was pouring from her funnel. The pool, the mud, the walls of heaped up water were discernible, but all quivering and reproduced, line after line, to infinity. It was like looking into the rear-view mirror of a car that is vibrating rapidly. It was like one of those Cubist paintings of a woman descending the stairs, where one had to puzzle out which is the woman and which is the stairs.
A dreadful thought shot through Jim's mind. He remembered what he had said to Tode: "You can't hold the boat still in four-dimensional space."
This was not quite the same. By stopping the infernal mechanism, one re-entered three-dimensional space, and landed. Certainly the Atom Smasher could land. They were not like the motorcyclist who got on a machine for the first time, and rode to the admiration of all who saw him, except that he couldn't find out how to stop.
Yet there was Parrish still fumbling with the controls, and the boat was still vibrating at a terrific rate of speed. It is impossible to dream of leaping out, for there was no solidity, no continuity in the scenery outside.
It was not like attempting to leap from a moving train, for instance. In that case one knows that there is solid earth beneath, however hard one lands. Here everything was distorted, a sort of mirror reflection. And Jim noticed a strange thing that had never occurred to him before. Everything was reversed, as in a mirror picture. That clump of trees, for instance, which should have been on the right, was on the left.
Parrish looked up. "There's some means of stopping her, of course," he said. "There must be a lever—but I don't know where to look for it in all this mess." He pointed to the revolving wheels. No, it might be a matter of days of experimenting in order to discover the elusive switch.
"It may be a combination of switches," said Parrish. "I don't know what we're going to do."
"Suppose I jumped and chanced it," Jim suggested.
Lucille caught his arm with a little cry. Parrish shook his head.
"That devil—Listen: there was a Drilgo he disliked. He threw him out of the boat just before she landed at the cave. Everything was in plain sight, plainer than things are here. But he was never seen again. For God's sake, lad, sit still. I'll try—"
* * * * *
Hours later Parrish was still trying. And gradually Jim and Lucille had ceased to hope.
Side by side they had sat, watching that glimmering scene about them. Sometimes everything receded into a blur, across which sunlight and shadow, and then moonlight raced, at others the surroundings were so clear that it almost seemed as if, by steadying the boat, they could leap ashore. And once there happened something that sent a thrill of cold fear through both of them.
For where the pool had been there appeared suddenly a hut—and Tode, standing in the doorway, looking about him, a malicious sneer curving his lips.
Jim leaped to his feet, and old Parrish, who had seen Tode too, sprang up in wild excitement.
"Sit down, lad," he shouted. "It's nothing. I—I turned the micrometer screw a trifle hard. I got us back to five years ago, when we were living here with Tode. That's just a picture—out of the past, Jim!"
Jim understood, but he sank down again with cold sweat bathing his forehead. The terrific powers of the Atom Smasher were unveiling themselves more and more each moment. Jim felt Lucille's hand on his arm. He looked into her face.
"Jim, darling, what's going to happen to us if dad can't find how to work the machine?"
"I don't know, dear. I've thought that we might all jump out and chance it. If we held each other tight, we'd probably land in the same place—"
* * * * *
Old Parrish stood up. "I can't work it, Jim," he said. "Tode's got us beat. There's only one thing for us to do. You can guess what it is."
"I think I can," said Jim, glancing askance at Lucille. Yes, he knew, but he lacked the heart to tell her. "If we were all to jump out, tied together—don't you think we might land—somewhere near where we want to land?" he asked.
"Jim, do you realize what each vibration of this boat means?" asked Parrish. "There's a table on the instrument-board. It's a wave length of four thousand miles in space and nineteen years in time."
"You mean we're moving to London or San Francisco and back—"
"Further than that, every infinite fraction of a second," answered Parrish. "No, Jim, we—we wouldn't land. So we must just go back to where we came from, and—"
He had been speaking in a low voice, calculated not to reach Lucille's ears. The girl had been leaning back, her eyes closed, as if half asleep. Now she rose and stepped up to her father and lover. "You can tell me the truth," she said. "I'm not afraid."
"We've got to go back, Lucille," answered her father. "It's our only chance. By following the course in reverse we can expect to make Atlantis again—"
"Back to that horrible place?"
"No, my dear. The chart will lead us, obviously, back to the cave where Tode has his headquarters. We must try to surprise him, and force him to bring us back to Long Island."
"And then?" asked Lucille.
Parrish shrugged his shoulders. "We'll face that problem when we come to it," he answered.
"But how do you expect to be able to land at the other end any more than this?" asked Jim. "Suppose the machine continues to vibrate instead of coming to a standstill?"
"I think," said Parrish, "that we'll be able to strike a bargain with Tode. Obviously he will be willing to bring the machine to a standstill in order to parley with us. We'll make terms—the best we can. After all, he can't afford to remain marooned on the isle of Atlantis without the Atom Smasher."
"I hate the idea of bargaining with that wretch," said Lucille.
"So do we all, dear," answered Jim. "But there's nothing else that we can do. It's just a matter of give and take. And I'd be glad to consent to any terms that would bring us three safe back to earth, with all this business behind us."
"I'll start back, then," said Parrish, turning back to the instrument board.
And, to the familiar thump, thump of the electrical discharge, the Atom Smasher took up its backward journey once more.
* * * * *
A long time passed. With her head resting against Jim's breast, Lucille rested. Jim bent over her, trying to discover whether she was asleep or not. Her eyes were closed, her breathing so soft that she hardly seemed alive. An infinite pity for the girl filled Jim's heart, and, mingled with it, the intense determination to overcome the madman who had subjected her to these perils. He glanced across at Parrish, fingering his screws. Old Parrish looked up and nodded. There was a new determination in the old man's face that made him a different person from the crazed old man whom Jim had encountered at the Vanishing Place.
"We can beat him, Parrish!" Jim called, and Parrish looked back and nodded again. "We're nearly back to the top of the column," he answered.
Not long afterward Parrish looked up once more. "Stand by, Jim!" he called. "And be ready. Tode will be aware of our approach by means of the sensitive instruments he keeps in his laboratory. But don't harm him. We want him aboard, and we want him badly. He won't be able to play any more tricks with us. I've learned too much about the Atom Smasher."
He pressed a lever, and the greyness dissolved into its component parts of light and darkness. A jar. Thump, thump! The violet light! Lucille looked up, raised herself, uttered a low cry and caught at Jim's arm, trembling.
They had run their course truly. The Atom Smasher was vibrating outside the entrance to Tode's cave. And that was Tode, standing there, watching them, that devilish grin of his accentuated to the utmost. A blurred figure that appeared and vanished, and a surrounding crowd of Drilgoes—how many it was impossible to guess, for they looked like a crowd of apes in motion.
Suddenly Tode disappeared, and a moment later Lucille uttered a terrified cry as his voice spoke in her ear:
"I thought you'd be back. I knew you'd got away from Atlantis when my recorder showed the waves of electrical energy proceeding from the city. You were clever, Dent, but you see, you had to come back to me to get my help."
"Don't be afraid, dear," said Jim, trying to soothe the girl. "That's a wireless receiving apparatus." He pointed to a sort of cabinet enclosed among the rotating wheels, and then it was evident that Tode's voice was proceeding from it.
* * * * *
Tode's figure appeared again, dancing through a haze of lines and patches. He was holding something in his hand which Jim made out to be the mouthpiece of a microphone. The voice inside the Atom Smasher spoke again:
"Turn all the micrometer screws until the needles register zero, Parrish. Then turn Dial D to point 3, Dial C to 5, Dial B to 1, and Dial A to 2. I'll repeat.... Now press the starting lever, Parrish, and you'll find yourself on firm ground again."
A few moments later the Atom Smasher was pouring out an immense column of the violet light, and slowly the vibration ceased. The blurred forms of Tode, of the Drilgoes grew clear. They had arrived.
Tode stepped over the rail. "And now, my friends, we'll have a talk," he said.
"No tricks, Tode," Jim warned him, "You've probably got a number of deviltries up your sleeve—"
"One or two, Dent," grinned Tode.
"We're willing to negotiate."
"Of course you are. You see, I hold the trumps, Dent. Those dial deflections, which are inevitable in the construction of any piece of mechanism, are not the same for Earth in 1920. Don't think you can use the same figures to land with. You must remember that there has been a precession of the equinoxes since the time of Atlantis, with a consequent shift in the earth's axis. No, Dent, I've got you very much where I want you. But I'm willing to discuss terms with you. First of all, let's get rid of this useless cargo. I don't believe in overburdening a ship," he grinned.
He picked up Cain bodily and heaved the astonished Drilgo over the side before he knew what was happening to him. Cain picked himself up and rubbed his sides, whimpering mournfully. The Drilgoes crowded closer, their faces agape with astonishment. Tode spoke a command sharply, and they scattered.
* * * * *
"Before we come to terms, Dent, I'll give you a piece of news that may interest you," said Tode. "Much has happened during the time you've been away. Ambassadors have been out to see me from Atlantis. With the aid of a Drilgo interpreter, they conveyed to me that they had been greatly impressed by the disappearance of the Atom Smasher. They have nothing like it, of course, and they think I'm a Number One magician.
"The upshot is, they want me to accept the supreme rule of the city, and use my arts to restore the lost territory that has sunk beneath the waves. They swore on an image of their god, Cruk, that they were sincere. I told them that I'd sent the Atom Smasher away on a journey, but that it would be back shortly, and that I'd then give them their answer.
"Now, Dent"—Tode's face took on that look of fanaticism that Jim had seen on it before—"I'm going to repeat the proposition I made to you before. Join me. I'll make you my chief subordinate, and I'll load you and Parrish down with honors. Everything that a human being can desire shall be yours. And in a year or two, when we're tired of being gods, we'll take the Atom Smasher back to Earth and destroy it, and with our wealth we'll become the supreme rulers of Earth too. I need you, Dent. You don't realize how lonely life can be when one is worshiped as a god. As for Lucille, there are a thousand maidens more beautiful than she is, in Atlantis. Come, Dent, your answer! Your last chance, Dent! Don't throw it away!"
He read the answer before Jim could speak it. Jim saw Tode's face flicker, and hurled himself upon him. Lucille screamed. The two men wrestled together in the narrow confines of the circular boat. Jim struck Tode a blow that sent him reeling against the rail. Then he felt himself seized from behind. A giant Drilgo had him in his arms. He lifted him over the side and flung him to the earth. In an instant the chattering Drilgoes were crowding down upon him.
Struggling madly, Jim saw Tode fell old Parrish with a blow, push back Lucille as she sprang at him, and quickly press the starting lever. The column of violet fire faded, there came the whir of the mechanism—the Atom Smasher vanished....
The Blinded Eye
Jim fought with all his strength; he managed to shake off his assailants and regain his feet. Then one of the Drilgoes poised his stone-tipped spear, ready to hurl it through his body.
But the spear never left the Drilgo's hand in Jim's direction. Like a great black ape, Cain leaped upon the fellow and bore him to the ground, his feet twined around his shoulders, his hands gripping his throat. Not until the Drilgo had been reduced to a heaving, half-strangled hulk did Cain leave him.
Then Cain, bending until his stomach almost touched the ground, came worming toward Jim, making signs of obeisance.
What had happened that Jim had won the Drilgo's faith? Why did Cain now look upon him, apparently, as his master? It was impossible to gauge the processes of the black man's mind, and at the moment Jim was in no mood to wonder. The stunning disaster that had overtaken him monopolized his thoughts.
Lucille and Parrish were once more in Tode's power. That was the dominating fact. The only gleam of comfort in the situation was that Tode had given him the clue to his movements.
Beyond a doubt Tode had taken his captives into Atlantis with him. It was impossible to disbelieve Tode's statement that he had been offered the supreme power in the city. Tode's egotism would have compelled him to blurt out that fact. Besides, Tode had certainly not gone back to earth.
Jim must force his way into Atlantis. He would find and rescue the two prisoners or die there.
He turned away from the groveling Cain and the chattering Drilgoes, who, inspired by Cain's example, now seemed animated by the same instinct to obey him, and went into the cave. But at the entrance he turned for a moment and looked back.
* * * * *
It was night. The valley was swathed in mists, the volcano opposite was spouting a shaft of lurid fire. On the water was a path of moonlight, where the clouds had been dispersed by the Atlanteans. Jim took in the scene, he raised one arm and shook his fist. Then, without a word, he passed inside.
There was a soft light in the cave, streaming out from an inner chamber, access to which was through a narrow orifice in the rock. Jim passed through, and found himself in Tode's laboratory.
He was astonished at its completeness, still more so at the existence of numerous pieces of apparatus whose purpose it was difficult to understand. There was a radio transmitter and receiver, but improved out of all recognition from those in use in the prosaic year 1930. Three or four tiny dynamos, little more than toys in appearance, were generating as much voltage, from the indicators, as a modern power station. And overhead was a dial, with two series of figures in black and red, and two needles, both of which were swinging briskly, indicating that there was an intense electrical disturbance in the vicinity.
The Atom Smasher! Jim took heart. Tode could not be far away! He looked about him, subconsciously trying to discover some implement that would prove of service to him, but there was nothing that he could see, not even one of the ray tubes. He looked about uneasily.
Then his eyes fell upon something so singularly out of place that it looked, for the moment, like some pre-historic weapon. It was the last thing Jim would have expected to find there—nothing more nor less than a sporting rifle!
Deer shooting had been one of Tode's pastimes in the old days, and more than one fat buck had been surreptitiously shot for the benefit of the larder at the Vanishing Place. There was something almost pathetic in the sight of that rifle and the fifty cartridges in their cardboard carton. Perhaps Tode had pictured himself shooting big game in Atlantis at some period or other. It was a human weakness that for an instant lessened Jim's hate and horror of the man. It brought him to a saner view of the situation. Jim had been on the point of losing his powers of reason. The sight of the rifle restored them.
* * * * *
He turned sharply as he heard a sound in the entrance. Cain was coming toward him, with many genuflexions, and much stomach wriggling. He stopped, straightened himself. There was a look of singular intelligence on the Drilgo's face.
He began chattering, pointing in the direction of Atlantis. Jim could make nothing of what he was trying to convey.
"Yes, they're there," he said bitterly, "but I don't see how that's going to help me."
"Oh my poor Lucille!" said Cain unexpectedly.
The words were like a parrot's speech, the intonation so remarkable a copy of old Parrish's that Jim was flabbergasted. Nevertheless it was evident that Cain knew he was referring to Lucille.
With a strange, slinking motion he crossed the laboratory and bent beneath a huge slab of stone, resting on two great hewn rocks. He emerged, holding in his arms two curious contrivances. He laid them at Jim's feet.
Jim stared at them, and suddenly understood what they were. They were two pairs of wings, of the kind the Atlanteans had used when they made their aerial sortie against the Drilgoes.
Cain picked up one pair and began adjusting it about his body. He made fluttering movements with his arms.
"You mean that you've learned how to fly, you black imp of Satan?" shouted Jim.
And Cain, as if understanding, nodded and beamed all over his black face.
With that Jim's idea was born. If the Drilgoes would follow him, he would lead them against Atlantis. And, before the assault began, he would fly to the great Eye that guarded it, and blind it.
* * * * *
He thought afterward that it was like a supernatural revelation, this scheme, that leaped full-fledged into his brain. And Cain had developed extraordinary executive ability. Outside the cave, through rifts in the swirls of fog, Jim could see innumerable Drilgoes massing in the valley, as if they understood Jim's purpose. From Cain's gesticulations, and the number of times he rubbed his stomach, it was evident that he counted upon sacking Atlantis and was imagining innumerable meals of fat captives.
Each flash of lurid light from the volcano disclosed further masses of Drilgoes, armed with their stone spears, apparently assembling for the attack. Whether Tode had summoned them before the Atlanteans offered him the rulership of the city, or whether Jim's own plan had been communicated to them by some telepathic process, it was impossible to guess, but there was not the least doubt but that they were prepared to follow him.
Cain nudged Jim and began strapping the other pair of wings about his body. Jim saw that the energy was supplied by two tiny, lights burning in the base, cold fire, stored energy whose strength he did not guess. For, when Cain took him by the hand, and motioned to him to slide the knob in the groove, he was hurled skyward like a rocket.
There followed a delirious hour. Tossing and tumbling like a pigeon in a gale, Jim by degrees acquired mastery over the apparatus. At the end of the hour he could fly almost as well as Cain, who, like a black guardian angel kept beside him, reaching out a hand when he overbalanced, and pulling him out of aerial side-slips.
* * * * *
Suddenly Cain motioned toward the volcano, and started toward it in a rocketlike swoop. Jim understood. The Drilgoes were ready for the attack upon Atlantis.
Jim dropped to earth, ran back into the cave, and picked up the rifle and the carton of ammunition. He filled the magazine, and, with the rifle on his arm, rose into the air again. Cain was circling back, uttering weird cries of distress at finding his master absent.
"It's all right, Cain," said Jim. "I'm here."
Side by side they flew steadily toward the base of the great cone, which was pouring out a fan-shaped stream of fire. Rumblings shook the earth; it was evident that another upheaval was in course of preparation. The long column of the Drilgoes could be seen, extending around the flank of the mountain.
Then of a sudden the Eye opened. And across the causeway came the blue-white Ray, carrying death and destruction.
The Drilgoes, who had learned wisdom, remained concealed out of the Ray's path, and escaped, but a great dinosaur, fifty or sixty feet in length, startled by the light, came blundering out of the ferns, uttered a bellow, and melted into an amorphous mass. Birds dropped from their roosting places with a sound like that of falling hail. Black paths were cloven through the midst of the jungle.
Rifle in hand, Jim soared into the air, and shot forward, high above the causeway toward the glowing Eye.
He had noticed that the blue-white ray appeared in cycles of about two minutes, and had made his plans accordingly. Two minutes in which to accomplish his task, or take the chance of a hideous death. Some thirty seconds carried him right into the glowing heart of the winking Eye: he hovered and raised his rifle.
Underneath him the breakers thundered: round the Eye a myriad sea-birds fluttered, dashing themselves against it, falling into the waves. Huge and high the great city towered into the skies, lit by its soft incandescence. Jim could see the throngs in the streets, the traffic. But what was happening in the other side of the Eye?
* * * * *
Suddenly he saw the moon in her third quarter sailing through the skies, and a hideous fear overcame him. Suppose Tode had met with treachery; suppose that this very night Lucille were doomed to be sacrificed to the terrible god Cruk!
Suppose that even at that moment her tender flesh were being sacrificed by the awful hooks!
He drew a bead upon the Eye and fired—and missed. The bullet went wide. But even if it struck, what guarantee had he that it would shatter the glass, or whatever substance it was that covered the orb?
He lost position, and knew that the two-minute interval was drawing to a close. He soared and fired again. The Eye still glowed.
Then of a sudden a blinding ray shot forth from it, so dazzling that it seemed to sear Jim's eyeballs. The interval was ended.
It shot beneath him, but no more than a few feet, and turning his eyes shoreward, Jim saw it sweep along the causeway and tear a black path through the forest. Frantically he soared, and circled around the temple.
The ray went out. Two minutes more. And now the temporary panic had passed; Jim's nerves grew steady as a rock. He eased the controls and floated in toward the glowing orb. Sea-mews, screaming, dashed themselves against it and fell, wounded and broken, into the breaking seas below. They fluttered past Jim's face, one impacted against his chest with a thud that rocked him where he hovered.
But Jim knew that he could not fail. At a distance of fifty feet he drew a bead upon the centre of the Eye and pressed the trigger.
And instantly the light went out....
The Fight in the Dark
He dropped down softly to the causeway. Within the city he heard a sound such as he had never heard before, as if some ancient prophecy of doom had been fulfilled, a wailing "Aiah! Aiah! Aiah!" that was caught up from throat to throat and rose upon the wind in a clamor wild and mournful as that of the sea-birds around the broken Eye. It was the death-keening of proud Atlantis, Queen of the Atlantic for fifty thousand years. She was dying in darkness.
For, with the blinding of the Eye, all the soft lights within the city had gone out. Dense, utter, impenetrable darkness reigned, and even the gibbous moon, floating overhead, seemed to give no light.
Jim dropped to the causeway and began running in the direction of the city. But, feeling the drag of his wings, he unbuckled the strap and flung them away. He might need them, but his one thought was to get to Lucille, if she were still alive. And he felt that each moment lost might mean that he would be too late.
Through the blackness he raced forward, hearing that sobbing ululation within the walls. But behind him he heard another sound, and shuddered at it, all his hopes suddenly reversed. For that sound was the shouting of the Drilgoes as they rushed forward to conquest. And now it seemed a monstrous thing that proud Atlantis should be at the mercy of these hordes. He had let loose destruction upon the world. But it was to save Lucille.
That was his consolation. Yet he hardly checked the racing thoughts within his mind even for a moment, to meditate on what he had done. Those thoughts were all of Lucille. He must get to her before the Drilgoes entered. And he ran faster, panting, gasping, till of a sudden the portals loomed before him, and he saw a crowd of frenzied Atlanteans struggling to pass through, and a file of soldiers struggling to keep them back.
* * * * *
He could distinguish nothing more than the confused struggle. He hurled himself into the midst of the crowd and swept it back. He was within the walls now, and struggling to pass through the mob of people that was swarming like homeless bees.
He fought them with flailing fists, he clove a pathway through them, until he found himself in a great shadowy space that he recognized as the central assembly of the city. More by instinct than design he hit upon the narrow court that was the elevator. But the court was filled with another mob of struggling people, and in the darkness there was no possibility of discovering the secret of raising it.
He blundered about, raging, forcing a path now here, now there. He ran into blind alleys, into small threading streets about the court, which led him back into the central place of assembly. It was like a nightmare, that blind search under the pale three-quarter moon and the black, star-blotched sky.
Suddenly Jim found himself wedged by the pressure of the crowd into a sort of recess leading off the elevator court. So strong was the pressure here that he was unable to move an inch. Wedged bolt upright, he could only wait and let the frenzied mob stream past him. And louder above the sound of wailing came the roars of the Drilgoes swarming along the causeway.
Suddenly something gave behind him—a door, as it seemed, broken off its hinges by the mob pressure. Jim was hurled backward, and fell heavily down a flight of stone stairs, bringing up against a stone balustrade. He got up, unconscious of his bruises, ran to the top of the flight, and saw the dim square of palest twilight where the door had been.
But over him he could faintly see the stairs and the balustrade, winding away to what seemed immeasurable height. That stairway must lead to the top of the building, and thence there should be some access to the amphitheatre. Jim turned toward it.
* * * * *
Suddenly a tremendous uproar filled the streets, yells, the clicking grunts of the Drilgoes, the screams of the panic-stricken populace. The invaders had arrived, and they were sweeping all before them. No chance of recognition in that darkness. Lucille! Shouting her name, Jim began to ascend the stairs in leaps of three at a time.
But long before he reached the top he was ascending one by one, with straining limbs and laboring breath. Red slaughter down below, a very inferno of sound; above, that shadowy stairway, still extending almost to the heavens. Step after step, flight beyond flight!
Jim's lungs were bursting, and his heart hammering as if it would break his chest. One flight more! One more! Another! Suddenly he realized that his task was ended. In place of the stairs stood a vast hall, and beyond that another hall, dim in the faint light that filtered through the glass above.
Jim thought he remembered where he was. Beyond that next hall there should be the tongue of flooring, crossing the amphitheatre and joining the platform of the idols. But he stopped suddenly as he emerged, not upon the tongue, but upon still another stairway.
He had gone astray, and out of his bursting lungs a cry of rage and despair went up. For a moment he stood still. What use to proceed further?
And then, amazingly, there came what might have been a sign from heaven. Down through a small, square opening overhead, no larger than a ventilator, it came ... a glimmer of violet flame!
And Jim hurled himself like a madman against the stairs, and surmounted them with two bounds. There were no more. Instead, Jim found himself looking down into the amphitheatre.
The thick walls had cut off all sound from his ears, save a confused murmur, but now a hideous uproar assailed them. The whole floor of the amphitheatre was a mass of moving shadows, of slayers and slain.
The Drilgoes had broken in and trapped the multitudes that had taken refuge there. Their fearful stone-tipped spears thrust in and out, to the accompaniment of their savage howls and the screams of the dying.
* * * * *
Never has such a shadow-play been seen, perhaps, as that below, where death stalked in dense darkness, and the slayer did not even see his victim. Only the thrust of spears, the soft, yielding flesh that they encountered, the scream, the wrench of stone from tissue, and the blended howl of triumph and scream of despair.
Yet only for a moment did Jim turn his eyes upon that sight. For he knew where he was now. He had emerged upon the other side of the amphitheatre, upon the platform where he had seen the priests and dignitaries gathered when he was led forward to be sacrificed.
There, in the rear, were the hideous, shadowy gods, looming up out of the darkness, their outstretched arms interlaced. And there upon the platform was the Atom Smasher, a little thread of violet light seeping out of the central tube.
Beside it stood a group of figures, impossible to distinguish in the darkness, but of a sudden Lucille's scream rang out above the din below.
With three leaps Jim was at her side. He saw the girl, Tode, and Parrish, struggling in the grasp of a dozen priests. They were dragging them toward the idols, and Jim understood what that scene portended.
In despair at the irruption of the Drilgoes, the priests were seeking to propitiate their gods by sacrificing the three strangers whom they held responsible for all their woes.
Jim caught Lucille in his arms, shouting her name. She knew him, turned toward him. Then one of the priests, armed with a great stone-headed club—for no metal is permitted within the precincts of the god Cruk—struck at him furiously.
Jim leaped aside, letting the club descend harmlessly upon the floor. He shot out his right with all his strength behind it, catching the priest upon the jaw, and the man crumpled.
* * * * *
Whirling the club around his head, he fought back the fanatics, all the while shouting to Tode to start the Atom Smasher. In such a moment he only remembered that Tode was a white man, and of his own generation.
He struck down three of the priests; then he was seized around the knees from behind, and fell heavily. The club was wrenched from his hand. In another moment Jim found himself helpless in the grasp of the Atlanteans.
As he stopped struggling for a moment, to gather his strength for a supreme effort, he heard a whir overhead, and saw the arms of the stone gods begin their horrible revolution. The priests had started the machinery. And high above the din below rang out the wild chant of the high priest.
Jim saw him now, a figure poised upon a platform behind the arms, his own arms raised heavenward.
"Aiah! Aiah! Aiah!"
Jim was being dragged forward, with Lucille beside him, old Parrish following, still making a futile struggle for life, while pitiful screeches issued from his mouth.
Jim saw the revolving arms descend within a foot of his head. One more fight—one more, the last.
Suddenly, with loud yells, a band of Drilgoes leaped forward from the head of the stairs and rushed upon the struggling priests and victims. And, dark as it was, Jim recognized their leader—Cain.
And Cain knew Lucille. As the priests rallied for a desperate resistance, Cain hurled his great body through the air, landing squarely upon the shoulders of the priest nearest the revolving arms, and knocking him flat.
Then the arms caught priest and Drilgo, and the steel hooks dug deep into their flesh. A screech of terror, a howl that reverberated through the amphitheatre, and nothing remained of either but a heap of macerated flesh.
But in that instant Jim had fought free again. He caught Lucille and dragged her back toward the Atom Smasher.
* * * * *
Tode had already broken from his captors and was working at it frantically.
"Hold on!" screeched old Parrish. "Hold on!"
They had a moment's leeway. The Drilgoes had driven the priests back into the hooks. With awful shrieks the fanatics were yielding up their lives, in the place of their selected victims.
But more Drilgoes were pouring up the stairs. A moment's leeway, and no more, before the savage band would impale the four upon their stone-pointed spears. There was not the slightest chance that they would be able to make their identity known.
"For God's sake hurry!" Jim yelled in Tode's ear.
The wheels were revolving, a stream of violet light, leaping out of the central tunnel, cast a lurid illumination upon the scene.
But it was too late. A score of Drilgoes, with leveled spears, were rushing on the four.
"Hold tight!" screeched Parrish. He thrust his arm into his breast, and pulled out a little lever. Jim recognized it and remembered. It was the instrument of universal death—the uranium release of untold forces of cataclysmic depredation.
"Take that!" screamed the old man, inserting the lever into the secret groove in the Atom Smasher and jerking it in the direction of the priests.
Tode's Last Gamble
A roar that seemed to rend the heavens followed. Roar upon roar, as the infinite momentum of the disintegrating uranium struck obstacle after obstacle. The Drilgoes vanished, the amphitheatre melted away, walls and roof.... Overhead were the moon and stars.
And proud Atlantis was sinking into the depths of the sea.... Not as a ship sinks, but piecemeal, her walls and towers crumbling and toppling as a child's sand-castle crumbles under the attack of the lapping waves. Down they crashed, carrying their freight of black, clinging, human ants, while from the sea's depths a wave, a mile high, rose and battered the fragments to destruction. From the crater of the volcano a huge wave of fire fanned forward, and where fire and water met a cloud of steam rose up.
A boiling chaos in which water and earth and fire were blended, spread over land and sea. And then suddenly it was ended. Where the last island of the Atlantean continent had been, only the ocean was to be seen, placid beneath the stars.
The Atom Smasher was vibrating at tremendous speed. Jim, with one arm round Lucille, faced Tode at the instrument board. Near by sat Parrish, watching him too.
"That took a whole year," said Tode. "That pretty little scene of destruction we've just witnessed. The good old Atom Smasher has been doing some lively stunts, or we'd have been engulfed too. We're not likely to see anything so pretty in history again, unless we go to watch the destruction of Herculaneum and Pompeii by lava from Vesuvius. But that would be quite tame in comparison with this."
* * * * *
Tode's jeering tone grated on Jim's ears immeasurably.
"I don't think any of us are craving any more experiments, Tode," he said, trying to keep his voice steady. "Suppose you take us back to Peconic Bay. We'll dump the Atom Smasher into the pond, and try to forget that we've had anything except a bad nightmare."
"Don't trust him, Jim," whispered Lucille.
Tode heard. "Thank you," he answered, scowling. "But seriously, Dent, we can't go back with nothing to show for all our trouble. Those fools tried to betray me, and then the Eye went out. Perhaps I have you to thank for that performance? However, the sensible thing is to let bygones be bygones. But we must make a little excursion. How about picking up a little treasure from the hoards of Solomon or Genghis Khan? A few pounds of precious stones would make a world of difference in our social status when we reach Long Island."
Jim felt a cold fury permeating him. Tode saw his grim look and laughed malignantly.
"Well, Dent, I'm ready to be frank with you," he said. "The game's still in my hands. I want Lucille. I'm willing to take you and Parrish back, provided you agree she shall be mine. I'll have to trust you, but I shall have means of evening up if you play crooked."
"Why don't you ask my girl herself?" piped old Parrish.
"He needn't trouble. He knows the answer!" cried Lucille scornfully.
"There's your answer," said Jim. "Now, what's the alternative?"
"The alternative is, that I have already set the dial to eternity, Dent," grinned Tode. "Eternity in the fifth dimension. Didn't know I'd worked that out, did you? A pleasant little surprise. No, don't try to move. My hand is on the lever. I have only to press it, and we're there."
* * * * *
Jim stood stock still in horror. Tode's voice rang true. He believed Tode had the power he claimed.
"Yes, the fifth dimension, and eternity," said Tode, "where time and space reel into functionlessness. Don't ask me what it's like there. I've never been there. But my impression of it is that it's a fairly good representation of the place popularly known as hell.
"You fool, Dent," Tode's voice rang out with vicious, snarling emphasis, "I gave you your chance to come in with me. Together we'd have made ourselves masters of Atlantis and brought back her plunder to our Twentieth Century world. You refused because of a girl—a girl, Dent, who loved me long before you came upon the scene."
"That's a lie, Lucius," answered Lucille steadily. "And you can do your worst. There's one factor you haven't reckoned in your calculations, and that's called God."
"The dark blur on the spectral lines," old Parrish muttered.
Tode laughed uproariously. "Come, make your choice, Dent," he mocked. "It's merely to press this lever. You'll find yourself—well, we won't go into that. I don't know where you'll find yourself. You'll disappear. So shall I. But I'm desperate. I must have Lucille. Choose!" His voice rang out in maniac tones. "Choose, all of you!"
"Lucille has answered you," Jim retorted.
"And how about you, old man?" called Tode to Parrish.
Parrish leased forward, making a swift movement with his hand. "Go to your own hell, you dev—"
A blinding light, a frantic oscillation of the Atom Smasher, a sense of death, awful and indescribable—and stark unconsciousness rushed over Jim. His last thought was that Lucille's arms were about him, and that he was holding her. Nothing mattered, therefore, even though they two were plunged into that awful nothingness of the fifth dimension, where neither space nor time recognizably exists. Love could exist there.
"He's coming around, Lucille. Thank God for it!"
Jim opened his eyes. For a few moments he looked about him without understanding. Then the outlines of a room etched themselves against the clouded background. And in the foreground Lucille's face. The girl was bending over Jim, one hand soothing his forehead.
"Where am I?" Jim muttered.
"Back on earth, Jim, the good old earth, never again to leave it," answered Lucille, with a catch in her voice. With an effort she composed herself. "You mustn't talk," she said.
"But what place is this?"
"It's Andy Lumm's house. Now rest, and I'll explain everything later."
But the first explanation came from Andy Lumm. "Well, Mr. Dent, my wife and me sure were glad to be on the spot when you and Miss Parrish got bogged on the edge of the Black Pool," he said. "Mean, treacherous place it is. Thar was a cow got mired thar last month, up to her belly. If us hadn't found her, and dragged her out with ropes, she'd have gone clear under. Granpop Dawes says thar's underground springs around the edge, and that it runs straight down to hell, though that seems sorter far-fetched to me.
"Yessir, and if I hadn't heard WNYC giving Miss Parrish on the list of missing persons, and as having been seen near here, I reckon I'd never have found you. Made me and my wife uneasy, that did. 'Andy,' she says. 'I got an inkling you oughter go to the Vanishing Place and see if she ain't there.' And there I found you two, mired to the waist, and Mr. Parrish dancing around and fretting, and his clothes burned to cinders.
"It sure seems strange to me, to think Mr. Parrish got away safe after that explosion five years ago, and of his wandering around with loss of memory, till you found him, and brung him back here to restore it, but thar's strange things in the world—yes, sir, thar surely is!"
In the happiness of being back on Earth once more, Jim was content to let further explanations go. The return of Parrish had been duly chronicled in the newspapers, and had provoked a mild interest, but fortunately the public mind was so occupied at the moment with the trial of a night club hostess that, after the first rush of newspaper men, the three were left alone.
* * * * *
Day after day, in the brilliant autumn weather, Jim and Lucille would roam the tinted woods, recharging themselves with the feel of Earth, until the memory of those dread experiences grew dim.
"Well, Jim, I reckon I'd better tell you and get it over," said old Parrish one morning—Parrish, quite his old, jaunty self again. "Tode had got the dials pointing to the fifth dimension—eternity, he called it, though actually I believe it's nothing more than annihilation, a grand smash. Well, he pressed that lever. But something had gone wrong.
"You remember how poor Cain seemed to take great interest in the Atom Smasher. There's no way of telling what had been going on in that brain of his, but it looks to me like he'd known that that lever meant death. It was sealed up in wax, and Tode had got it free on the way out of Atlantis.
"Well—this it what I made out from examining the thing afterward. Cain had been monkeying with the lever. He'd pried loose one of the wires that hooked to the transformer, and short-circuited it, not knowing, of course, just what he was doing. The result was that when Tode pressed that lever, instead of blowing the whole contraption to pieces, he got a couple of billion volts of electricity through his body, combined with a larger amperage than has ever been imagined. It burned him to a few grease spots. He simply—vanished. You don't remember what you did at the moment, boy?"
"I don't seem to remember anything," said Jim.
"Well, your response was an automatic one. You jumped him. Luckily you were too late, for Tode vanished like that!" Old Parrish snapped his fingers. "But you must have got into the field of magnetic force—any way, you were almost electrocuted. Lucille and I thought you were dead for hours.
"We laid you down and set a course for home. I used those dial numberings Tode had given me. He'd said they wouldn't work, but he'd lied. They did work. They brought us back to the Vanishing Place.
"We carried you out, and then I saw your eyelid twitch. We worked over you with artificial respiration till it looked as if there was a chance for you. Then I shut off the power and let the waters rush in over the Atom Smasher, and swam ashore. And there it lies at the bottom of the pool, and may it lie there till the Judgment Day."
* * * * *
"Tode was a genius," said Jim, "but he never understood that character counts for more than genius."
"Let's think no more about him," said Lucille. She had come up to them, and the two looked at each other and smiled. Love is self-centred; other things it forgets very quickly.
"To-morrow we go back to New York," said Jim. "You think you're able to face the world and take up life again?"
"I think so, Jim," said Lucille.
"You're not remembering him after all?"
"No, Jim. I was thinking of poor Cain. He died for me."
"But that was twelve thousand years ago, my dear, and to-day's to-day," said Jim. "And to-morrow a new life begins for you and me."
He drew her closer to him. No, he would never quite forget, but that was twelve thousand years ago ... and to-morrow was his wedding day.
A Meeting Place for Readers of Astounding Stories
An "Astounding" Career
A friend introduced me to your new magazine, and it is wonderful. The best story in the magazine, or, rather, the one I liked best, outside of the serial, which I didn't read, is "The Cave of Horror," by Capt. S. P. Meek. Next comes Ray Cummings' story of the Fourth Dimension, "Phantoms of Reality." Other good ones are, "Tanks," "Invisible Death," and "Compensation."
I did not like "The Stolen Mind." It seemed to me to be a mixture of superstition and magic. A fairy tale. I am glad that you are publishing this magazine, and I think that it is worth double its present price. You have my good wishes to the magazine for a long and astounding career. My way of reading a serial is to save copies and to read the story at one time. I do not like to wait a month for a story to end or continue.
Your next issue seems to sound quite interesting. "The Spawn of the Stars," a very interesting and, I am sure, a fit name for the story. "Creatures of the Light" is a very vague name—you don't know what to expect. The others will prove to be as interesting as any that I have named. I prefer interplanetary stories the most, as any amount of science can be injected in them.—Nathan Greenfield, 318 East 78th St., New York, N. Y.
Prefers Long Stories
I got your first issue of Astonishing Stories, and, although I like the stories, I do not like the way you have it bound. (This is supposed to be criticism, so don't take it to heart.) The pages are uneven and hard to turn. But the stories in the first copy were good. And you'll have a swell magazine if you have stories by Harl Vincent and Ray Cummings. The aforesaid men are two of the best in the science fiction field. Another thing: don't have any short stories. If you have about 3 or 4 l-o-n-g stories, I'd like it better. I hope your magazine enjoys much success!—Linus Hogenmiller, 502 N. Washington Street, Farmington, Mo.
Another Who Likes Interplanetary Stories
I have read the first issue of Astounding Stories with much pleasure, and if the first issue is any indication of what is to follow I will continue to be a reader.
You inquire as to the kind of stories that your readers think should be published. I think you will find the most popular brand to be interplanetary stories and stories along the line of the "Beetle Horde." Best wishes for success in your new endeavor—F. C. Cowherd, Room 333, L. & N. Railroad, Louisville, Ky.
I have just finished one of the stories in your magazine, and could not resist the temptation to write and tell you how much I enjoyed it. The stories are great and are just the thing to give one rest and recreation. At the same time they fire imagination and are not trashy love stories.
The main purpose of the letter is to revive an old idea and see if I can put it through. I propose to organize a correspondence society for readers interested in science. We would use Astounding Stories as our official medium. Each member would receive a list of members' names and addresses, a quantity of official stationery for inter-correspondence, and a certificate of membership suitable for framing.
The object would be the discussion of scientific topics and the latest advances.
I would suggest an annual fee of $2.50 to cover the cost of printing stationery, certificates, application forms, copy of the constitution, lists of members and official pins.
All those interested in the formation of such a society are earnestly requested to write me, giving suggestions as to a suitable name, etc. They will receive full information, and a sample of the certificate of membership and an application form.
I trust you will publish this letter at your earliest convenience—M. R. Bercovitch, B. Sc., 4643 St. Urbain Street, Montreal, Canada.
You ask for readers to write you regarding types of stories desired. Well, I am an electrical engineer and of course like my yarns to have a touch of science in them. Also I like my authors to make an original contribution to whatever theory of science they develop fictionally. This Ray Cummings doesn't do in his very interesting story, "Phantoms of Reality." His beginning is palpably borrowed from Francis Flagg's story, "The Blue Dimension," which appeared in a Science Fiction magazine in 1927. Flagg developed the theory of vibrations, reverberation, etc., and contributed something new to speculative science. Cummings merely seizes this point and dives into a series of improbable adventures.
Now I am not quarrelling with their improbability: I like my stories improbable, but I am asking for something more original than the old rehash of kings and queens, intrigues, and returning princes, etc. Again, Cummings seems to lack enough scientific acumen to make his other world different than this. Even a superficial thinker will readily see that the terrain of the other world would not faithfully follow our own in its salient features. However, forgive me for knocking—the story wasn't so bad, and Cummings doubtless can do better than this—or has.
"The Beetle Horde"—so far—is a gem, and holds the interest. Furthermore, its science is splendid. I am looking forward to its conclusion. "The Cave of Horror" is a damn good yarn, well written, interest sustained: but I didn't care for "The Stolen Mind." The truth is that that particular story didn't hang together very well. It left one up in the air, as it were, and far from satisfied me. Too, the science involved, to say the least of it, was not very sound or plausibly put. In reading the story I felt that the author was one who should be encouraged to write more—nothing wrong with his imagination or ability to fling words—but that he should be gently coerced into writing with better continuity and intelligence. "Compensation" didn't click—too loose—not compact enough. Splendid idea ruined by hasty writing. Another author needing a gentle hint. But "Tanks" was another sure-fire hit with me. Held me to last word. The story sounded real.
So for the stories in your first issue. You see, on the whole, I liked all of them. Still, I also like variety. Can't you give us some of the Francis Flagg type of fiction? H. Hyatt Verril is another of my favorites, also Dr. Keller and Clara Harris. I have read mighty good tales by those authors. I believe you could do worse than to run an occasional H. G. Wells story, and if you gave us "The First Men in the Moon" serially, I for one would be delighted. I have tried in vain to get that story and never have. Well, I guess I have said enough. Best wishes for the New Year. May Astounding Stories grow and prosper—and its Editor.—C. Harry Jaeger, 2900 Jeedan Road, Oakland, California.
Likes Interplanetary Stories
Having read the first issue of Astounding Stories, I am about to pronounce a sentence on it. It is guilty of being "Astounding" to the Nth degree!
I enjoyed all the stories immensely and will be anxiously awaiting the next issue.
Now as for some suggestions which I think would improve the magazine.
I. Try to have an interplanetary story in each issue.
II. Publish a number of interesting letters concerning Astounding Stories in each issue.
III. Have several illustrations in long stories.
I think this would improve the magazine, although it is perfect just the way it is.
Hoping Astounding Stories has a long and successful life!—Forrest Ackerman, 530 Staples Avenue, San Francisco, Cal.
Watch the Coming Issues, Miss Miller!
Saw your new magazine at the newsstand and bought it at once. I like the following stories in this issue: "The Beetle Horde," "Phantoms of Reality," "The Stolen Mind." I did not care much for the others, and least of all for "Tanks."
I believe that readers, like myself, who are interested in scientific fantasies, prefer stories of interplanetary travels and fourth dimensional stories, and variations of these themes. Such as various space-ships and vibration machines for visiting other planets and traveling backward and forward in time. Stories of lost continents and of strange races of people living in unknown places on our own Earth are interesting also.
A magazine of this kind has unlimited possibilities for stories of the aforementioned types, and I believe that readers who buy magazines of these subjects expect to find therein really Astounding Stories. Best wishes for the success of your magazine!—Ruth Miller, St. Regis Hotel, Cleveland, Ohio.
This is to inform you that we have formed a club which we named "The Scienceers." The object of this club is to bring together members who are interested in science in general, also to talk the stories of your magazine over. We have no means of reaching those who are interested except through your magazine. We hope you will grant us space to print this letter in your magazine. We would appreciate it if every reader of your magazine living in New York City or nearby towns would drop us a card with his name and address. We then would be able to send him information of our club. We hope you will print this letter, as we are all readers of your magazine.—Louis Wexeler, 1933 Woodbine Street, Brooklyn, New York.
We Examine All Science Very Carefully
In the first edition of your periodical, you invite criticism from its readers. I am extremely pleased to note that Ray Cummings is among its contributors. His short crisp sentences and word pictures are most interesting. As to the type of stories, I would not be particular; but there is one thing which must be observed: Since this magazine is about science every story must be examined to discover any false statements by the author concerning present-day science.
I think that discoveries and inventions to be made in the future—by the author, of course—cannot be censored.—James Brodent, New York, N. Y.
Young Mr. Wright Writes In
I am accepting your offer to write and tell you what kind of stories I like. So I did.
I prefer stories of the Fourth Dimension.
I hope to find plenty of these fascinating stories in your coming issues.—Billy Wright, Age 11, Sheppard Place, Nashville, Tenn.
Likes His Science Fiction
Allow me to congratulate you on your fine magazine, it being one of the seven (more or less) magazines in print that are the best on the market.
I am glad to say that I can't throw you any brickbats, only bouquets, and thought I would tell you the kind of stories I would like to see in "our" magazine, if I may take the liberty of calling it that.
I like stories of the type A. Merritt and Edgar Rice Burroughs write, particularly A. Merritt, and if you could reprint "Through the Dragon Glass," by A. Merritt, I wish you would, and give it a cover illustration, as I have everything by him except that one. Please give it a cover illustration as well as any by Merritt and Burroughs you ever print.
You certainly have a good title, and in my opinion the magazine need not be changed one iota, except perhaps you might have the background a different color every month; that is, the background of the cover, using every color in the solar spectrum, which might make it sell better, and, at any rate, would make a nice looking magazine in my opinion. Everything in Science Fiction that comes out I have to get, and pretty soon I will have so much that I will probably have to pay storage space for it. I have a pretty good amount now; four stacks two feet high each, but I can't resist it and will keep on buying as long as there is anything in that line to buy, and as long as I can.
Put this in the proverbial waste-basket if you don't want to print it, as that is probably its ultimate destination anyway, as my ideas are not worth much or less than that. But I do wish you would read it through and act on my suggestions soon.
Thanks—from an ardent devourer of Science Fiction, who reads everything in that line he can get his hands on, your and our magazine being one of the best in that line.—Worth K. Bryant, 406 North Third Street, Yakima, Washington.
"A Great Magazine"
I have just come across a copy of your new magazine Astounding Stories, and to say that it is a great magazine is putting it mild. I enjoy stories of the distant future. The first instalment of "The Beetle Horde" by Victor Rousseau was great. I hope to hear more of this author in coming issues. I would like to see stories by such authors as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Harl Vincent, Otis Adelbert Kline, Garret Smith, also Ray Cummings. I wish Astounding Stories a long life.—Wilbert Moyer, 533 N. 7th Street, Allentown, Pa.
Mr. Anderson's Favorites
Just a word referring to your "What kind of stories do you like?" in Astounding Stories. I like stories with some facts based on true science of to-day, but let the author's imagination wander a little, because anything might be possible to-morrow. I do not like love stories or much humor in this type of stories.
Stories of other worlds or of the Fourth Dimension always interest me, because there is no limit to the imagination there.
Why not have a discussion column and print some of the letters? It would encourage more to write, and give you their opinion: and, whether good or bad, should help you please the majority.
Some will maybe say the cover is too vivid—but that was what attracted my eye when I picked it out from among many others.
Most of your stories in the first edition were good. I liked "The Beetle Horde" and "Phantoms of Reality" best. Also noticed the "Spawn of the Stars" next issue, which sounds O. K. Hoping you all success in this type of stories.—C. E. Anderson, 3504 Colfax Avenue, Minneapolis, Minn.
A Young Reader's Favorites
I am writing you, per your request in your first issue of Astounding Stories. They are most entertaining. I have read three of the stories and they are excellent. You asked the readers to tell you the kind of stories we liked best. I like stories that concern the future of aviation. I like interplanetary stories, also the stories about the Fourth Dimension. I like Cummings', Rousseau's, Leinster's Meek's, Vincent's and Starzl's writing. Your magazine is sure worth twenty cents. You could put more science in your stories.
Please hold H. Wesso, your artist. He can really draw. I have seen his drawings in other magazines. And you may console yourself with the thought that you have one continuous reader. I feel that your magazine is going to be a success. I am also expressing the thoughts of other readers. I am only 15 years old, but I like to read good science stories, nevertheless. I hope to see you in next month's magazine.—Ward Elmore, 2912 Avenue J. Ft. Madison, Iowa.
A Contented Reader
Congratulations on your new publication, Astounding Stories. I certainly enjoyed reading the January issue. I believe that this magazine is the answer to the prayer of those readers who are desirous of something different, something unique. Another feature is that you are charging only 20c a copy for a magazine that is really worth several times that amount. You may count on me as a steady buyer of the Astounding Stories as long as future issues are up to the standard of the January issue.
Let me urge you that you give us the magazine on time every month. I do not want to postpone my enjoyment of reading the Unique Magazine on the first Thursday of each month.
Keep up the good work, and remember me as a contented reader of your publication—T. J. Creaff, Jr. P. O. Box 734, Phoenix Arizona.
Well, I've got to say something, and I might as well get it over with. Your new magazine, Astounding Stories, is a Lallapaloozer. I'm sorry I didn't get the first edition of the new magazine, but I suppose you have some in stock and I'm sending in my twenty cents in stamps to get one. I might as well tell you how I found out about this new wonder.
One dreary, dreary night I walked into my newsdealer's store to get a paper. While there I happened to glance upon the bookstand—I saw the word Astounding and, my curiosity aroused, I walked over to the stand and pulled the magazine out. Imagine my surprise and delight when I found out what it was! Well, I bought the book then and there without even taking a look inside. When I got home I opened the book, and the first story that caught my eye was "Old Crompton's Secret," by Harl Vincent. I knew the story was good before I read it, because I've read quite a few of Mr. Vincent's novels and they were all excellent. The best stories I like are interplanetary stories.
Why not have a "Reader Talks" in Astounding Stories, where each reader gives his point of view on the stories in the magazine? I know everyone would enjoy that, as it gives the readers a chance to comment on stories and, also, see what the other reader thinks about any story in particular.
I wish you success in your new enterprise and hope my first edition of Astounding Stories arrives soon.—Joseph Kankowsky, 35 Columbia Street, West Orange, New Jersey.
"The Readers' Corner"
All Readers are extended a sincere and cordial invitation to "come over in 'The Readers' Corner'" and join in our monthly discussion of stories, authors, scientific principles and possibilities—everything that's of common interest in connection with our Astounding Stories.
Although from time to time the Editor may make a comment or so, this is a department primarily for Readers, and we want you to make full use of it. Likes, dislikes, criticisms, explanations, roses, brickbats, suggestions—everything's welcome here: so "come over in 'The Readers' Corner'" and discuss it with all of us!
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