* * * * *
At that moment the sky became fused with reddish light. Over the horizon appeared a shining orb. Far-away hills and valleys leaped into sight. Then for the first time Carruthers noted the high plateau upon which he had spent the night. Had they ventured a hundred yards farther during the night they would have plunged into the rocky floor of a canyon a thousand feet below.
"Let's see if we can find a way down to the valley," he suggested. "If we get anything to eat it will have to come from trees. This plateau is barren of any form of vegetable matter."
They found a winding descent leading downward. It looked like a path that had been worn by the passage of many feet.
"Someone's been here before us," he exclaimed. "The ground is too well worn to be accidental."
"Look! Look!" pointed Nanette. Her face had become pale from the excitement of her discovery. "What is it, Aaron?"
Carruthers bent forward to examine the strange footprint. It was nearly two feet across and divided in the center, as if the animal that made it had but two toes.
"From the size of the tracks and the length of the animal's stride, I should say it was some form of an amphibious dinosaur long extinct in our own world."
"Are they dangerous?"
"It all depends upon the species. Some of them are pure vegetarians; others are carnivorous. The heavy tramping we heard during the night evidently came from the beast who left these footprints."
* * * * *
They had come upon the footprints where the path made a turn, leading into a dense growth of trees and underbrush. And as Carruthers knelt beside the path he heard a rustle as of something moving directly behind him. Wonderingly, he turned his head to trace the disturbance. But the woods seemed empty. "Strange," he murmured. "Did you hear something moving in back of us, Nan?"
Nan shook her head. "You don't think we're in any danger from these beasts, do you?"
Carruthers said nothing for the moment. Instead, he looked sharply in all directions and saw nothing. "Let's push on till we come to some kind of a shelter. Perhaps we'll find people much like ourselves."
Down the path they hurried, glancing curiously right and left at unknown flowers and trees. A bird with brilliant feathers skimmed above their heads, uttering shrill cries. Other voices from the birds and animals in the woods took up the cry. The woods grew denser as they pushed into the unknown.
In the woods at their right a rodent squeaked as some larger animal pounced upon it. Presently they came to a pool of water roughly seventy feet across. While they knelt to quench their thirst they saw two young deer eyeing them from the far side. Soft feet pattered behind the kneeling couple. Carruthers half whirled as he rose to his feet and peered into the jungle behind him.
A blur of reddish brown vanished behind a tree. Man or animal Carruthers couldn't determine. He grasped Nanette by the arm and pulled her back to the path.
"Quick!" he whispered. "There's someone or something following us. I'm sure of it now."
* * * * *
Nanette's voice trembled slightly. "What is it, Aaron?"
"I don't know." He turned his head again. This time he saw the thing that was following. A low ejaculation of alarm escaped his lips. A gigantic ape! The mouth of the creature sagged grotesquely, revealing two rows of yellow fangs. And its orange colored eyes were burning coals set close together. Carruthers sucked in a deep breath.
"Run, Nan," he gritted. "I'll try and scare him away."
Simultaneously with the scream of fright from the startled girl, a huge mountain of grayish flesh and bones blocked the downward slope of the path. Carruthers paled as he turned and faced the new menace.
Coming directly toward them he saw an immense animal so great in size that it seemed to shut out the light. A prehistoric dinosaur! It came slowly and leisurely, swinging its great red mouth from side to side. Other denizens in the woods, sensing the presence of the huge killer, fled in a panic of alarm. Their shrill cries increased the terror that froze the hearts of the two earth people.
Nanette clung to her companion in abject terror, unable to move. Her fear stricken eyes were wild and staring as the mountain of flesh pushed towards them.
The animal's long neck arched far in front of its body, and its long, pointed tail remained out of sight within the trees.
Carruthers backed off the path into the underbrush, dragging the girl after him. The jaws of the huge animal opened wide with anticipation. Lumberingly he turned from the path and followed. Trees crashed before its gigantic bulk. The woods became a bedlam of snapping branches.
The horrified scream of the girl ended in a gurgling sigh. She toppled to the ground in a dead faint. Carruthers flung himself beside her crumpled body and gathered it into his arms. A quick glance he threw at the spot where he had last seen the gigantic ape. The animal was no longer there. It had disappeared.
The man's lips became a hard, straight line. Even as he straightened to his feet the leaves and branches of an overturned tree whipped his face. The red mouthed dinosaur was perilously near. So close that Carruthers could smell its great, glistening body. The odor was musky and foul.
Stumbling blindly he attempted to widen the distance between himself and his pursuer. But the hungry dinosaur pounded steadily on its course. There was no getting away from it. Its beady eyes sought out its prey and its keen smell told it exactly where the earth beings were.
On and on staggered Carruthers. The extra burden of the girl hampered his movements. Unseen roots tripped him time and time again. Each time he scrambled to his feet and picked up the unconscious girl. Briars tore at his clothing and stung his hands.
The underbrush was thickening. A warm, dank smell clung to the vegetation now almost tropical in nature. Beads of sweat rolled down the man's forehead and into his eyes. But the horrible fear of those red, dripping jaws spurred him to renewed efforts.
He doubled to the left, hoping to throw the animal off his tracks. The undergrowth seemed to thin out at this point. Renewed hope flowed through the young scientist's blood. He stumbled on blindly, scarce watching where his feet were taking him. A sigh of relief came to his lips. Ahead of him he saw a clearing. His stride lengthened and he broke into a shambling run.
* * * * *
Then it was he saw, towering walls rising up on both sides of him—steep walls that he could never scale, even if alone. He tried to change his course, but the huge bulk of the pursuing dinosaur effectively blocked his path. There was no alternative but to push on and pray for an opening in the rugged cliffs.
Abruptly a sigh of despair escaped his lips. The walls of the canyon narrowed suddenly, and across it stretched a wall of bare rock. He realized too late that he had returned to the base of the plateau where he had spent the night. The grim, towering walls hemmed him in completely from three sides. At the fourth side bulked the dinosaur, coming slowly, ponderously.
Beady eyes peered down cunningly at the helpless man and woman. Confident now that its prey couldn't escape, it extended its huge bulk across the narrow canyon for a leisurely killing.
Carruthers glared at the monster with fear-distended eyes. In his heart he realized that there was no escape. He had no means of defense, no way to combat the huge monster but flight. And even that was now denied him.
Closer and closer inched the killer until its great, red mouth appeared like the fire box of a huge boiler. Hot breath fanned the man's cheek. The nauseous odor of the beast made his stomach wrench. He dropped to his knees close to the inert figure of the girl and glared vengefully into the beady eyes.
The gaping mouth at the end of a long, supple neck jerked forward. Carruthers dragged the girl away just in time to escape the gnashing teeth. The dinosaur stamped angrily.
Once again Carruthers felt its hot breath beating upon his face. He cringed at the thought of this kind of death. No one would ever know how it happened. Not even his closest friend, Karl Danzig! What a mess things were. Why didn't the red mouth of the mighty dinosaur close over him and crush out life? Why must he kneel in torture?
From near at hand a piercing scream rang through the air. A harsh scream. A terrifying scream!
* * * * *
Carruthers raised his head. The dinosaur had twisted around to glare hatefully at the disturber of its meal. Other screams splintered the forest air. And as the kneeling man watched he saw the great red ape who had been dodging his footsteps a short time before, slouch between the dinosaur's hulking body and the wall of the cliff. Behind it came others—black mammals with curving arms that dragged along the ground.
Their fangs were bared. They were in an ugly mood. Arriving in front of the dinosaur and less than four feet from the earth man and woman, the leader silenced its followers with a low growl and turned in concentrated fury upon the dinosaur. Its long arms drummed a throbbing tattoo upon its hairy chest.
The dinosaur bellowed protestingly against the attitude of the apes and gorillas. The ape leader protested with equal violence. The dinosaur shifted uneasily, wagging its heavy head from side to side. On all sides came deep growls from the mammals.
Carruthers watched all this display torn between doubt and fear. Which side would win? How could the apes and gorillas, huge as they were, hope to force the dinosaur away? But the apes were masters. This much was apparent. Inch by inch the dinosaur backed away, glaring vengefully. And having reached a spot where it could turn around it did so. Presently the ground trembled as it made off through the steaming jungle. The leader of the mammals turned and faced the earth people. Long, searching minutes passed. Its close set eyes seemed to be studying them.
* * * * *
Nanette stirred and opened her eyes. The sight of the anthropoids caused her to recoil.
"Steady, Nan," spoke Carruthers softly.
Other apes and gorillas gathered around the giant red animal. They displayed no hostility, only an intense interest. One by one they squatted before the earth people until they formed a half circle, reaching from the one wall of the rocky plateau to the other.
While they sat there it began to grow dark. Carruthers removed his watch and ventured a glance at it. Daylight had lasted less then three hours. An hour for twilight, then it would be dark. Evidently the cycle around the nucleus of the atom took approximately ten hours.
Nanette sat up. "Aaron!"
He answered without removing his eyes from the red ape less then four feet away. "Don't look at me, Nan. Concentrate on the big, red fellow. He's evidently in control. If we act the least bit frightened they might decide to destroy us."
"What are they waiting for? Why don't they go away?"
"We'll know before long. I imagine they're trying to figure out who we are and what we are doing on their tiny planet."
Darkness descended rapidly. Overhead, a small moon rose majestically in the heavens and started its journey through the night. Its faint light revealed the fact that the apes showed no intentions of leaving. They still squatted before the earth people, in a half circle of staring brown eyes.
Whatever fear Carruthers had felt towards the animals died away. "They're harmless," he told Nanette. "Get some sleep if you can."
* * * * *
Long after the tired girl had drifted into slumber Carruthers sat with his back against the wall, mentally trying to figure the whole thing out. The dinosaur was real enough. Yet the apemen had frightened it away, in fact had compelled it to go without actually engaging in combat. No question about it. The anthropoids were in control. But who controlled them?
Quite suddenly his eyes snapped open. Daylight had come again. He must have fallen asleep. The shrill chatter of the apeman came to his ears. The red ape leader shuffled to his feet and looked from the earth people to the spot in the jungle whence came the chatter. Abruptly he opened his mouth and emitted a flood of gibberish sounds.
The gorillas and apes at his side flattened their bodies against the rocky walls in attitudes of expectant waiting.
"What's happening?" gasped the girl.
"There's no telling," whispered Aaron. "It must be someone or something of importance. Note the expressions of awe and reverence on the faces of the apemen. My God, Nanette, look!"
Out of the depths of the jungle emerged seven white beings—human or animal it was impossible to tell. They were huge creatures with the bodies of men. Erect of carriage, almost human in looks, they contrasted strangely with the red apes and the black gorillas. Six of them appeared to act as bodyguard for the seventh.
As they reached the space in front of the two earth people, the bodyguard stepped aside. The seventh white one came to a dead stop. Long and intently he stared at the man and girl crouched against the wall. And the scrutiny seemed to please him, for he smiled.
Carruthers eyed the figure uneasily. He saw what seemed to be a man dressed in a long, fibrous garment. With white hair and beard, it was a strange figure indeed for an apeman. He saw also that the eyes were well spaced, a mark of intelligence. The forehead was high and broad. And as Carruthers mentally studied the creature, strange and bizarre thoughts crossed his mind.
* * * * *
The mouth of the white apeman twitched as if he were going to speak. The heavy lips parted. A single word came to Carruthers' ear—"Man?"
Carruthers nodded. "We are from the earth."
The lips of the apeman moved painfully as if speech came with the utmost of difficulty. "The prophecy of the Great One has been fulfilled even as it has been written."
The red apes and black gorillas allowed their eyes to wander from their white leader to the two earth people. And their faces reflected the supernatural awe with which they regarded the earth people.
"It's uncanny that an animal can speak our language," breathed Nanette.
As if he hadn't heard her, Carruthers spoke again. "We are from the earth," he repeated. "We have been on your world many hours, and we are both hungry and thirsty."
"Words come hard," came from the lips of the white bearded one. "I have not used them for years."
"And who are you?" asked Carruthers.
The white bearded one paused as if to recall some distant echo from the past. "I am the last of the tribe of Esau. But come! This is no place for speech. Long have I and my followers waited for this hour."
* * * * *
Without another word he swung around. The six guards enclosed his aged body in a hollow square and the procession moved away. They came after a short journey to a natural opening leading to the heart of the plateau. The apes and gorillas, with the exception of the red leader, remained outside. The remainder of the party pushed through a tortuous tunnel until they reached a cavernous opening directly beneath the plateau. Vertical openings in the walls furnished light and air. The white chieftain spoke in a strange tongue to his followers, and they instantly prepared three couches in a far corner of the cavern.
As the earth people seated themselves on the skins that made up the couch they were both conscious of a far-away rumbling like peals of thunder. Not having seen any signs of a storm outside Carruthers turned inquiringly on the aged chieftain.
The old man's eyes were shadowed with grim foreboding. "I have ordered something to refresh you and your companion," he said. "Eat first, my friends. We will talk later."
The six body-guards left the main cavern. Presently they returned with large trays made of fanlike leaves resembling the palmetto. Fresh fruits and uncooked vegetables formed the bulk of the meal. In silence they ate. After the litter had been cleared away the guards withdrew with the exception of the giant red ape, who crouched near the opening to the tunnel.
"I am glad you have come," began the old chieftain, "but sorry, too. Our planet, or rather the higher forms of life upon it, are doomed."
* * * * *
Again there came to the ears of the earth people that far-off beat of sound that seemed to shake the ground. They looked to the white bearded leader for explanation.
"Ah, you hear it too," murmured the other. "For centuries, we of the great tribe of Esau have fought for the supremacy of our little world—ever since the Great One appeared in our midst and instructed us in world knowledge."
"And this Great One, as you call him," spoke Carruthers. "Who was he?"
"He was from your world. I never saw him. He comes to me as a legend. For years he toiled among us, teaching and instructing until we mastered his language. He called himself Dahlgren. Later he ruled all the tribes. We of the Esau line he made into leaders because of our higher intelligence. The tribes of Zaku were trained for war. Perhaps you have noticed the chief of all the Zakus. He is crouching now beside the entrance to our inner walls. He is Marbo, and his followers live in the jungles."
"And does he talk as you do?"
The white chieftain shook his head. "No. Only we of the Esau tribe have mastered speech. Not counting the women of our tribe that comprise our numbers we are only seven in all."
"I owe Marbo my life as does also my companion," said Carruthers.
"Marbo looks upon you earth people as gods," spoke the old chieftain. "He and his followers will protect you with their lives."
"And who rules over and beyond?" questioned Carruthers, waving his arm to cover the remaining portion of the electron.
"There is no rule beyond except that of force. The Great One called them by name, Morosaurus, Diplodocus, the Horned Ceratosaurus, and many others whose names I have long forgotten. They are our enemies whom we cannot destroy. And their numbers increase from year to year and are slowly backing us upon our last stronghold."
"Isn't there anything we can do?" asked Carruthers, feeling a quiver of apprehension along his spine.
* * * * *
Slowly, the old chieftain shook his head. "Nothing whatever. Marbo and his followers can control one or two, but when the herds begin to push on into our territory, we are doomed. Even now their rumblings and bellowings come through the jungles. Their thirst and hunger for flesh is enormous."
Carruthers turned upon the girl. "The old chief's words explain everything, Nan. Professor Dahlgren has been here and gone. He lived a lifetime in the span of a few hours earth-time. Now it looks as if we were destined to follow in his footsteps."
"I'm not afraid," said the girl. "Nothing can be worse than what we have already passed through." And her eyes softened as she placed her small hands within those of Carruthers. "We have each other, Aaron."
He smiled reassuringly and turned to the old chieftain. "I am Carruthers, a friend and assistant to Dahlgren. The girl here is Nanette."
The chieftain smiled gravely. "And I am Zark. Welcome to my kingdom, Carruthers and Nanette. We need you here. Now tell me of your world, for long have I waited for a follower of the great Dahlgren to appear before my people."
Throughout the remainder of the day Carruthers talked. The shafts of light paled at the end of the short day. Night came, bringing with it a sense of security against the increasing hordes that thundered and trumpeted beyond the borders of the jungle.
In the morning Zark instructed Marbo to remain close to Carruthers at all times. So the young scientist left the cavern and ascended the path leading to the top of the plateau. He looked at his watch and compared the second hand with the nucleus atom sailing across the heavens to estimate its speed.
* * * * *
Days passed as he made his observations. Meanwhile he had searched and found the exact spot wherein he and Nanette had first stepped foot onto the electron. This spot he carefully marked off with a ring of huge boulders carried up by the followers of Marbo. Then he began to calculate upon his pad. There must be no mistakes. He and Nanette must be within the magic circle at the estimated time.
Between times he helped Nanette construct their living quarters in the cavern. Zark had furnished them with skins and furs with which to cover the walls. Carruthers made a fireplace of stones and restored the lost art of fire to Zark, Marbo and their followers.
Days slipped by like minutes. Short days filled with excursions into the jungles. Carruthers' face soon bristled with a stubble of beard. This lengthened with time. Sharp thorns tore their clothes to ribbons. Nanette, womanlike, cried many times during the nights because of the lack of a mirror and a comb for her untidy hair.
But other and more important events soon claimed the attention of the earth people. Day by day the herds of dinosaurs and other monsters of like breed edged closer and closer to the tiny civilization around the plateau. It worried Carruthers so much that he sought out Zark and had him bring the other six members of his tribe together for a council of war.
"A complete defensive system, Zark," he told them. "We must make a fortress of the plateau and fill the caverns with food."
* * * * *
Zark shook his head. "No. It is quite useless. Followers of Marbo have recently returned from over the beyond and report strange things. I have hesitated to speak of them for fear of alarming you. Our planet is breaking up. Violent eruptions have caused fires of stone and mud. The rumblings you have heard were not made entirely by our enemies. They came from the ground.
"An earthquake," murmured Carruthers, momentarily stunned by the news. "But they are always of short duration, Zark. We have them on our own planet."
"Ah, but these are different. They cover the whole of our globe. The great Dahlgren noted them while he was with us. He wrote many words and figures on paper concerning them. Only yesterday I unearthed these records. The life of our planet was doomed to destruction during the present year. What matter if the herds of dinosaurs overrun us and destroy lives? In the end they, too, will be destroyed. It is fate. We can do nothing."
Even as the old chieftain spoke a gigantic rumbling, greater in intensity than any heretofore, shook the electron. Above the deep rolling disturbance underground rose the shrill cries of the apemen.
Carruthers leaped to his feet and raced through the tunnel. A herd of dinosaurs choked the path leading to the outside entrance. Marbo brushed past him, shrilling in great excitement.
"Drive them away!" ordered Carruthers. "Like this!" He hurled a rock at the eye of the nearest animal.
The dinosaur bellowed and backed away. The apes, and gorillas, used to fighting only with their long arms, caught on to the stunt with surprising quickness. Their powerful arms reached out. Stones and boulders began to hurtle from the mouth of the tunnel. They thudded against the heads of the great monsters like hailstones.
Subdued and frightened by this sudden display of force, the monsters withdrew down the path. But the apemen had discovered a new method of warfare. They found a childish delight in hurling stones. Within a few minutes the slope was barren of rocks. The animals followed up their momentary advantage and ran screaming down the path. The dinosaurs fled in panic.
* * * * *
AS soon as the enemy had been driven away, Carruthers pointed out to Marbo the advantage of gathering the stones up from the ground and returning them to the space around the mouth of the tunnel so that he and his followers would be ready for a second repulse.
Zark appeared at this moment and helped with the explanation. His crafty old eyes turned with new respect upon the earthman.
Carruthers toiled with them every day from then on, building and fortifying the plateau against further incursions of the monsters. Security and peace reigned for several weeks then hostilities broke out afresh.
The rumblings of the electron had increased with each passing week. Volcanic eruptions poured fresh discharges of molten lava and fiery sparks along the edges of the jungles.
"I don't want to needlessly alarm you, Nan," he told her that night, "but the fires have started. Zark was right. Unless we have rain before to-morrow morning the heat and smoke will drive us out into the open."
"But we can go to the top of the plateau," suggested the girl. "There aren't any trees—"
A concentrated bellowing cut off the rest of her words. Driven towards higher ground by the heat of the flames, the dinosaurs were trampling up the path leading to the tunnel.
Once again Carruthers rallied his army of apemen around him and attempted to drive the mammals away. As they reached the end of the tunnel a cloud of dense smoke stung their eyes. The apemen shrilled in a sudden panic and forgot all their previous training in driving off the dinosaurs. Like scurrying rats they scattered.
* * * * *
Flames from the conflagration broke through the smoke—flames that leaped and twisted skyward.
Carruthers flung off the fear that held him spellbound and started along up the path leading to the top of the plateau. A disheveled figure appeared suddenly at his side—Nanette!
"Come," he whispered, hoarsely. "We've got to get out of this or we'll choke to death."
"But Zark," breathed the girl, "He and his followers are still in the cavern. We can't leave them."
Like one demented of reason, Carruthers raced back along the tunnel to the cavern. "Zark!" he shouted.
The sound of his voice was drowned in the welter of screaming bedlam coming up from below as the dinosaurs and apes fought for the supremacy of life. But of Zark and his six followers he found absolutely no sign. Quickly he hurried back to where he had left Nanette.
Even as he reached the spot he had a sudden premonition of danger. A gorilla, huge and black, brushed past him on the path, carrying a limp burden under his shaggy arm.
"Stop!" commanded Carruthers, hurrying after the animal.
A huge arm knocked him sprawling. Spitting blood Carruthers staggered to his feet. Up to this time he had felt no fear of the gorillas. They had been orderly and well behaved. Fearful that harm would come to the girl he ran after the dark figure ahead. The red glow of flames swept nearer. The gorilla came to a stop and faced its pursuer. Lust shone from its close-set eyes—lust and passion.
Carruthers stopped dead in his tracks. "Drop her!" he demanded.
The animal snarled hoarsely. There came the sound of ripping cloth. Nanette screamed—a terrifying scream that echoed and re-echoed through the electron night.
* * * * *
It was then that the thin cloak of civilization dropped from Aaron Carruthers' back. He became in a single moment an animal fighting for his mate. With a snarl equally vicious as that of the gorilla pawing at the helpless girl, he lunged forward.
Mouthing his rage, the gorilla flung the earth man to the ground. Carruthers came up frothing at the mouth. With grim intensity he fastened himself to the animal's free arm. The raging mammal staggered helplessly under the extra burden and dropped the girl to concentrate his fury on the man. It raised a hairy arm aloft for the smashing blow. Instinctively Carruthers released his hold.
At that very moment the electron lurched sickeningly, causing them both to lose their footing. The violent upheaval sent Carruthers one way and the gorilla the other. While the man stumbled to his feet to resume battle he saw the infuriated monster stagger over the edge of the plateau wall into a sheer drop of a thousand feet.
Starkly through the night came the growling roars of the giant beasts from the jungles below. Nanette fluttered to his side. Her dress was torn and dragged on the ground. For all her disheveled appearance she was still beautiful to look upon. Forgetful of the danger on all sides of him, the animal in Carruthers saw in her pitifully half-clad body the same thing that the beast had desired. His head whirled hotly.
"Aaron!" she pleaded as his arm reached out to clutch her.
Hungrily he drew her to him. The pale light of the electron moon mingled with the roaring blast of the flames. Madness inflamed his heart and pounded his blood.
"Don't, Aaron," protested the girl, trying to free herself.
* * * * *
Something in the quality of the girl's frightened tones brought the man back to normal. He fought against the overwhelming desire to possess with all the force of his nature. And the better half triumphed. No longer was he an animal, but a reasoning human being. With a faint sigh he released her and wiped a hand across his dripping forehead.
"I'm sorry, Nan," he murmured. "That great brute drove me mad for an instant. I'm all right now."
Together they stood in the electron night and watched death creep closer and closer. The plateau was entirely surrounded with flames now and the heat was increasing with each passing moment. As it increased they backed towards the center.
From under their feet came the choking cries of the apemen. They had returned to the cavern only to be overcome by smoke fumes. While yet the earth people stood there waiting and watching the red death creep nearer, the path leading downward into the jungle became a mass of moving shadows.
"The dinosaurs!" cried Nanette. "Oh, Aaron! We are lost!"
"Steady, girl," soothed the man. "If we stand still they might not see us in the dark. The smoke will destroy our scent."
But as the minutes passed the herd of monsters increased. They crowded along the path and spread out over the top of the plateau. Once again the smell of their glistening bodies fouled the nostrils of the earth people.
Slowly Carruthers guided Nanette back towards the ring of rocks—perhaps the barrier would serve to keep the animals away. He scrambled across one of the boulders and pulled the girl after him. As he did so, a violent subterranean action shock the electron from one end to the other.
* * * * *
Carruthers braced his feet against the ring of rocks to keep from pitching headlong to the ground. Nanette clung to him wordlessly. All around them the giant forces of nature raged sullenly. Twisting seams appeared in the rocky floor of the plateau from which oozed gaseous vapors.
"Courage," soothed Carruthers as he held the quivering body of the frightened girl close to his own. "This can't last."
But the ground continued to lurch and heave on its axis. Vivid lights crossed and criss-crossed the atomic heavens. The fissures in the ground appeared now as black canals. The lower part of the circle of boulders disappeared. Off to the right came despairing screams. White bodies glowed for an instant against the background of flames.
"Zark!" shouted Carruthers, as he saw the leader of the tribe of Esau and his followers making their way along the plateau top.
Zark must have heard the earth-man's voice, for he started forward at a run. Simultaneously there appeared a herd of the greatest of all the prehistoric monsters—the Brontosaurus. They balked enormously against the flame-licked skies. Zark and his followers attempted to avoid them. But fear of the scorching flames drove the monsters forward. There followed a maddening moment of unutterable pain for the remaining ones of the tribe of Esau, then the herd trampled them underfoot and rumbled towards the half circle of rocks where the two earth people were crouched.
The leader of the Brontosaurus herd trumpeted madly and barged for the higher ground of safety. Too late did instinct warn it of the widening fissure underfoot. Before it could stop the pressure of the herd drove it into the crevice.
* * * * *
Carruthers drew back to the extreme inside edge of the boulders trying to still his ears against their insane bellowings. A cloud of heavy, choking smoke enveloped him for a moment then passed away. Then it was that he saw a new star in the atomic heavens,—a star that seemed to burn with the brilliance of a meteor. Even as he watched he was conscious of it drawing closer.
The planet was now in a continuous uproar. The ground was heaving and trembling as if from some inward strain. This was the end. Carruthers realized it with a sinking heart. In another minute the electron would disintegrate into a flaming mass of matter and fling itself from its orbit around the atom.
And then the light from the approaching star struck them in a blinding radiance of vermilion flames. Carruthers held his breath. Some invisible force seemed to take possession of his body and that of the girl at his side. The rocky plateau, now a boiling mass of rocks, dropped from under their feet. Clear, cold air enveloped their bodies. Then with the speed of light their bodies were hurled through planetary space, up, up, up into the vast reaches of the higher ether.
Darkness assailed them. The flames from the jungle fire vanished into nothingness. The electron moon paled to the size of a pin point, then went out.
Carruthers had the feeling of expansion and growth. It was as if his body was taking on the size of the whole world. It seemed to last for hours, days, ages. But all the while he clung fast to the slender, quivering body of Nanette.
* * * * *
Mountains and hills suddenly blazed before his eyes. Straight up and down mountains. He tried to stir his sluggish mind into action. What did they mean? Where had he seen them before? And while yet his mind struggled with the problem the mountains dwindled like melting snow. The pressure around his body relaxed. A blinding glare of steady light played upon his face. Then all was quietness and peace.
"Nan! Aaron!" The voice was Karl's.
Dazedly they looked around. What had once been mountains were now desks and chairs. They were back again in the laboratory. Several agonizing minutes passed before either could grasp the startling change in things. The horror of the electronic disaster still filled their minds to overflowing.
Carruthers recovered first. He stepped from the railed inclosure marking the spot where the atomic beam had restored them after their space flight, and guided the girl to a chair. Karl's face was drawn and white as his eyes rested on the two pitiful figures that had materialized out of the ether.
"Don't ask us any questions yet," spoke Carruthers in a tired voice. "We've passed through too many horrors. What was the matter, Karl? Couldn't you get the rays to work sooner?"
"Sooner?" Danzig's eyes were wide with wonder. He glanced at his watch. "It was a little difficult to control both machines all alone, but I switched off the ray from the inverse dimensional tubes and turned on the other immediately. All in all it must have taken me fifteen seconds."
"Fifteen seconds," repeated Carruthers, dazedly. "It's unbelievable." He dropped wearily into a chair and rested his forehead in the palms of his hands. "How long have we been gone, Nan?"
* * * * *
Nanette pulled the ragged remnants of a dress around her knees and attempted a smile. "Almost four months, according to the passage of time on the electron."
"Impossible!" whispered Danzig, shutting his eyes to the truth.
Aaron Carruthers pointed to his clothes, now ragged and torn. "Look, Karl! Everything I have on is worn out completely. Observe my hair and beard, and the soles of my shoes. Human reason to the contrary, Nanette and I have lived like two animals for four months, and all in the space of fifteen seconds earth time. How can you account for it? We figured it out on paper. And we've proved it with our bodies. What it will mean to future civilization I can't foretell. It's beyond imagination."
And the laboratory became silent as a tomb as the three people tried with all the strength of their minds to grasp the miracle of the strange and unfathomable atomic rays.
* * * * *
PRODUCING HEAT BY ARCTIC COLD
Producing heat by means of Arctic cold is a fantastic but none the less quite practicable idea evolved by Dr. H. Barjou of the French Academy of Science. Dr. Barjou says the water under the ice in the Arctic region is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. While the air is many degrees less, there may even be a difference of 50 degrees. The unfrozen water could be pumped into a tank and permitted to freeze, thus generating heat, as freezing a cubic meter of ice liberates about as much heat as burning twenty-two pounds of coal. The heat produced would vaporize a volatile hydrocarbon which would drive a turbine. For condensing the hydrocarbon again, Dr. Barjou says great blocks of brine could be used.
Not only would the Arctic regions become comfortably habitable by means of this utilization of energy, contends Dr. Barjou, but heat also could be furnished for the rest of the world.
Now if some one only can discover how to make the Sahara Desert send forth cooling waves, the world will be perfect, temperaturally.
Jetta of the Lowlands
PART TWO OF A THREE-PART NOVEL
By Ray Cummings
[Sidenote: Into remote Lowlands, in an invisible flyer, go Grant and Jetta—prisoners of a scientific depth bandit.]
WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE
In the year 2020 the oceans have long since drained from the surface of the earth, leaving bared to sun and wind the one-time sea floor. Much of it is flat, caked ooze, cracked and hardened, with, here and there, small scum-covered lakes, bordered by slimy rocks. It is hot, down in the depth of the great Lowland areas, and it is chiefly adventurers and outcasts of human kind who can endure life in what few towns there are.
Into Nareda, the capital village of the tiny Lowland Republic of Nareda, goes Philip Grant, an operative of the United States Customs Department, on a dangerous assignment—to ferret out the men who are smuggling mercury into the United States from that place.
Grant falls in love with Jetta, the daughter of Jacob Spawn, a big mercury mine owner of Nareda, only to learn that Spawn has promised her in marriage to Greko Perona, the country's Minister of Internal Affairs.
Grant follows Perona to a midnight Lowland rendezvous with mysterious strangers and eavesdrops on them, sending their indistinct voice murmurs to his chief, Hanley, in Washington, who relays them back to him, amplified. He learns several important things: that Spawn and Perona and a depth bandit named De Boer are together involved in the smuggling; that they have planned a fake robbery of a fortune in radiumized mercury stored at Spawn's mine, to collect the insurance on it and escape paying the Government export fee: and that they, plan to kidnap Grant for ransom.
The plotters learn of Grant's absence from Nareda, and suspect that he may be nearby. They start to search for him. Grant barely escapes, with the bandits and conspirators in hot pursuit. He flees to Jetta, hoping that they will be able to get away together: but he finds her tied hand and foot in her room.
The door is tightly sealed.
And close behind him are his pursuers!
I must go back now to picture what befell Jetta that afternoon while I was at Spawn's mine. It is not my purpose to becloud this narrative with mystery. There was very little mystery about it to Jetta, and I can reconstruct her viewpoint of the events from what she afterward told me.
Jetta's room was in a wing of the house on the side near the pergola. Her window and door looked out upon the patio. When I had retired—that first night in Nareda—Spawn had gone to his daughter and upbraided her for showing herself while he was giving me that first midnight meal.
"You stay in your room: you have nothing to do with him. Hear me?"
From her infancy he had dominated her; it never occurred to either of them that she could disobey. And yet, this time she did; for no sooner was he asleep that night than she came to my window as I have told.
This next day Jetta dutifully had kept herself secluded. She cooked her own breakfast while I was at the Government House, and was again out of sight by noon.
Jetta was nearly always alone. I can picture her sitting there within the narrow walls of her little room. Boy's ragged garb. All possible femininity stripped from her. Yet, within her, the woman's instincts were struggling. She sewed a great deal, she since has told me, there in the cloistered dimness. Making little dresses of silk and bits of finery given her surreptitiously by the neighbor women. Gazing at herself in them with the aid of a tiny mirror. Hiding them away, never daring to wear them openly; until at intervals her father would raid the room, find them and burn them in the kitchen incinerator.
"Instincts of Satan! By damn but I will get these woman's instincts out of you, Jetta!"
* * * * *
And there were hours when she would try to read hidden books, and look at pictures of the strange fairy world of the Highlands. She could read and write a little: she had gone for a few years to the small Nareda government school, and then been snatched from it by her father.
When Spawn and I had finished that noonday meal, I recall that he left me for a moment. He had gone to Jetta.
"I am taking that young American to the mine. I will return presently. Stay close, Jetta."
He left with me. Jetta remained in her room, her thoughts upon the coming night. She trembled at them. She would meet me again, this evening in the moonlit garden....
The sound of a man walking the garden path aroused her from her reverie. Then came a soft ingratiating voice:
"Jetta, chica Mia!"
It was Perona, standing by the pergola preening his effeminate mustache.
"Jetta, little love bird, come out and talk to me."
Jetta slammed the window slide and sat quiet.
"Jetta, it is your Greko."
"Well do I know it," she muttered.
"Jetta!" He strode down the path and back. "Jetta." His voice began rising into a strident, peevish anger.
"Jetta, are you in there? Chica, answer me."
"Jetta, por Dios—" He fumed, then fell to pleading. "Are you in there? Please, little love bird, answer your Greko. Are you in there?"
"Come out then. Come to Greko."
* * * * *
She said sweetly. "My father does not want me to talk to men. You know that is so, Senor Perona."
It grounded him. "Why—"
"Is it not so?"
"Y-yes, but I am not—"
"A man?" Little imp! She relished impaling him upon the shafts of her ridicule. Her sport was interrupted by the arrival of Spawn. He had left me at the mine and come directly back home. Jetta heard his heavy tread on the garden path, then his voice:
And Perona: "Jetta will not come out and talk to me." The waxen mustached Minister of Nareda's Internal Affairs was like a sulky child. But Spawn was unimpressed. Spawn said:
"Well, let her alone. We have more important things to engage us. I have the American occupied at the mine. You heard from De Boer?"
"I went last night. All is ready as we planned. But Spawn, this fool of an American, this Grant—"
"Hush! Not so loud, Perona!"
"I am telling you—!" Perona was excited. His voice rose shrilly, but Spawn checked him.
"Shut up: you waste time. Tell me exactly the arrangements with De Boer. Le grand coup! now; to-night most important of nights—and you rant of your troubles with a girl!"
* * * * *
They were standing by the pergola, quite near Jetta's shaded window. She crouched there, listening to them. None of this was entirely new to Jetta. She had always been aware more or less of her father's secret business activities. As a child she had not understood them. Nor did she now, with any clarity. Spawn, had always talked freely within her hearing, ignoring her, though occasionally he threatened her to keep her mouth shut.
She heard now fragments of this discussion between her father and Perona. They moved away from the pergola and sat by the fountain, speaking too low for her to hear. And then they paced the path, coming nearer, and she caught their voices again. And occasionally they grew excited, or vehement, and then their raised tones were plainly audible to her.
And this that she heard, with what the knew already, and with what subsequently transpired, enables me now to piece together the facts into a connected explanation.
In the establishment of his cinnabar mine some years before, Spawn was originally financed by Perona. The South American was then newly made Minister of Nareda's Internal Affairs. He became Spawn's business partner. They kept the connection secret. Spawn falsified his production records; and Perona with his governmental position was enabled to pass these false accounts of the mine's production. Nareda was systematically cheated of a portion of its legal share.
But this, after a time, did not satisfy the ambitious Perona and Spawn. They began to plan how they might engage in smuggling some of their quicksilver into the United States.
Perona, during these years, had had ambitions of his own in other directions. President Markes, of Nareda, was an honest official. He handicapped Perona considerably. There were many ways by which Perona could have grown rich through a dishonest handling of the government affairs. It was done almost universally in all the small Latin governments. But Markes as President made it dangerous in Nareda. Even the duplicity with the mine was a precarious affair.
* * * * *
There was at this time in Nareda a young adventurer named De Boer. A handsome, swaggering fellow in his late twenties. He was a good talker; he spoke many languages; he could orate with fluency and skilful guile. His smile, his colorful personality, and his gift for oratory, made it easy for him to stir up dissatisfaction among the people.
De Boer became known as a patriot. A revolution in Nareda was brewing. Perona, as Nareda's Minister, was De Boer's political enemy. The Nareda Government ran De Boer out, ending the potential revolution. But Perona and Spawn had always secretly been friends with De Boer. It would have been very handy to have this unscrupulous young scoundrel as President.
When De Boer was banished with some of his most loyal followers, he began a career of petty banditry in the Lowland's depths. Spawn and Perona kept in communication with him, and, by a method which was presently made startlingly clear to Jetta and me, De Boer smuggled the quicksilver for Perona and Spawn. It was this activity which had finally aroused my department and caused Hanley to send me to Nareda.
This however, was a dangerous, precarious occupation. De Boer did not seem to think so, or care. But Perona and Spawn, with their established positions in Nareda, were always fearful of exposure. Even without my coming, they had planned to disconnect from De Boer.
"And for more than that," as Jetta had one day heard Perona remark to her father. "I'll tell to you that this De Boer is not very straight with us, Spawn." De Boer would, upon occasion, fail to make proper return for the smuggled product.
* * * * *
So now they had planned a last coup in which De Boer was to help, and then they would be done with him: the two of them, Spawn and Perona, would remain as honest citizens of Nareda, and De Boer had agreed to take himself away and pursue his banditry elsewhere.
It was a simple plan; it promised to yield a high stake quickly. A final fling at illicit activity; then virtuous reformation, with Perona marrying the little Jetta.
* * * * *
Beneath the strong room at the mine, Perona and Spawn had secretly built a cleverly concealed little vault. De Boer, this night just before the midnight hour, was to attack the mine. Spawn and Perona had bribed the police guards to submit to this attack. The guards did not know the details: they only knew that De Boer and his men would make a sham attack, careful to harm none of them—and then De Boer would withdraw. The guards would report that they had been driven away by a large force. And when the excitement was over, the ingots of radiumized quicksilver would have vanished!
De Boer, making away into distant Lowland fastnesses, would obviously be supposed to have taken the treasure. But Perona, hidden alone in the strong-room, would merely carry the ingots down into the secret vault, to be disposed of at some future date. The ingots were well insured, by an international company, against theft. The Nareda government would receive one-third of that insurance as recompense for the loss of its share. Perona and Spawn would get two-thirds—and have the treasure as well.
* * * * *
Such was the present plan, into which, all unknown to me, I had been plunged. And my presence complicated things considerably. So much so that Perona grew vehement, this afternoon in the garden, explaining why. His shrill voice carried clearly to Jetta, in spite of Spawn's efforts to shut him up.
"I tell to you that Americano agent will undo us."
"How?" demanded the calmer Spawn.
"Already he has made Markes suspicious."
"Chut! You can befool Markes, Perona. You have for years been doing it."
"This meddling fellow, he has met Jetta!"
"I do not believe it." There was a sudden grimness to Spawn's tone at the thought. "I do not believe it. Jetta would not dare."
"You should have seen him flush when Markes mentioned at the conference this morning that I am to marry Jetta. No one could miss it. He has met her—I tell it to you—and it must have been last night."
"So, you say?" Jetta could see her father's face, white with suppressed rage. "You think that? And it is that this Grant might be your rival, that worries you? Not our plans for to-night, which have real importance—but worrying over a girl."
"She would not talk to me. She would not come out. He has no doubt put wild ideas into her head. Spawn, you listen to me. I have always been more clever than you at scheming. Is it not so? You have always said it. I have a plan now, it fits our arrangements with De Boer, but it will rid us of this Americano. When all is done and I have married Jetta—"
* * * * *
Spawn interrupted impatiently. "You will marry Jetta, never fear. I have promised her to you."
And because, as Jetta well knew, Perona had made it part of his bargaining in financing Spawn. But this they did not now mention.
"To get rid of this Grant—well, that sounds meritorious. He is dangerous around here. To that I agree."
"And with Jetta—"
"Have done, Perona!" With sudden decision Spawn leaped to his feet. "I do not believe she would have dared talk to Grant. We'll have her out and ask her. If she has, by the gods—"
It fell upon Jetta before she had time to gather her wits. Spawn strode to her door, and found it fastened on the inside.
"Jetta, open at once!"
He thumped with his heavy fists. Confused and trembling she unsealed it, and he dragged her out into the sunlight of the garden.
"Now then, Jetta, you have heard some of what we have been saying, perhaps?"
"About this young American? This Grant?"
She stood cringing in his grasp. Spawn had never used physical violence with Jetta. But he was white with fury now.
"Father, you—you are hurting me."
Perona interposed. "Wait Spawn! Not so rough! Let me talk to her. Jetta, chica mia, your Greko is worried—"
"To the hell with that!" Spawn shouted. But he released the girl and she sank trembling to the little seat by the pergola.
Spawn stood over her. "Jetta, look at me! Did you meet—did you talk to Grant last night?"
She wanted to deny it. She clung to his angry gaze. But the habit of all her life of truthfulness with him prevailed.
"Y-yes," she admitted.
There was an instant when it seemed that Spawn would strike the girl. The blood drained from his face, leaving his dark eyes blazing like torches. His hamlike fist went back, but Perona sprang for him and clutched him.
"Hold, Spawn: I will talk to her. Jetta, so you did—"
The torrent of emotion swept Spawn; weakened him so that instead of striking Jetta, he yielded to Perona's clutch and dropped his arm. For a moment he stood gazing at his daughter.
"Is it so? And all my efforts, going for nothing, just like your mother!" He no more than murmured it, and as Perona pushed him, he sank to the bench beside Jetta. But did not touch her, just sat staring. And she stared back, both of then aghast at the enormity of this, her first disobedience.
I never had opportunity to know Spawn, except for the few times which I have mentioned. Perhaps he was at heart a pathetic figure. I think, looking back on it now that Spawn is dead, that there was a pathos to him. Spawn had loved his wife, Jetta's mother. As a young man he had brought her to the Lowlands to seek his fortune. And when Jetta was an infant, his wife had left him. Run away, abandoning him and their child.
* * * * *
Perhaps Spawn was never mentally normal after that. He had reared Jetta with the belief that sin was inherent in all females. It obsessed him. Warped and twisted all his outlook as he brooded on it through the years. Woman's instincts; woman's love of pleasure, pretty clothes—all could lead only to sin.
And so he had kept Jetta secluded. He had fought what he seemed to see in her as she grew and flowered into girlhood, and denied her everything which he thought might make her like her mother.
Spawn met his death within a few hours of this afternoon I am describing. Perhaps he was no more than a scheming scoundrel. We are instinctively lenient with our appraisal of the dead. I do not know.
"Jetta," Perona said to her accusingly, "that is true, then: you did talk with that miserable Americano last night? You sinful, lying girl."
The contrition within Jetta at disobeying her father faded before this attack.
"I am not sinful." The trembling left her and she sat up and faced the accusing Perona. "I did but talk to him. You speak lies when you say I am sinful."
"You hear, Spawn? Defiant: already changed from the little Jetta I—"
"Yes, I am changed. I do not love you, Senor Perona. I think I hate you." Her tears were very close, but she finished: "I—I won't marry you. I won't!"
It stung Spawn. He leaped to his feet. "So you talk like that! It has gone so far as this, has it? Get to your room! We will see what you will and what you won't!"
* * * * *
Again the crafty Perona was calmest of them all. He thrust himself in front of Spawn.
"Jetta, to-night you plan to see him again, no? To-night?—here?"
"No," she stammered.
"You lie! Spawn look at her! Lying! She has planned to meet him to-night! That is all we want to know." He broke into a cackling chuckle. "That fits my new plan, Spawn. A tryst with Jetta, here in the garden."
"Get to your room," Spawn growled. He dragged her back, and Perona followed them.
"You lie there." Spawn flung her to her couch. "After this night's work is done, we'll see whether you will or you won't."
"She may not stay in here." Perona suggested.
"She will stay."
"You seal her in?"
"I will seal her in."
Perona's eyes roved the little bedroom. One window oval and a door, both overlooking the patio.
"But suppose she should get out? There is no way to seal that window properly from outside. A cord!"
A long stout silken tassel-cord had been draped by Jetta at the window curtain. Perona snatched it down.
"If her ankles and wrists were tied with this—"
"No!" burst out Jetta. And then a fear for me rushed over her. A realization, forgotten in the stress of this conflict with her father, now swept over her. They were planning harm to me.
"No, do not bind me."
* * * * *
A sudden caution came to her. She was making it worse for me. Already she had done me immense harm.
She said suddenly, "Do what you like with me. I was wrong. I have no interest in that American. It is you, Greko, I—I love."
Spawn did not heed her. Perona insisted, "I would tie her with care."
He helped Spawn rope her ankles, and then her wrists, crossed behind her.
"A little gag, Spawn? She might cry out: we want no interference to-night." He was ready with a large silken handkerchief. They thrust it into her mouth and tied it behind her neck.
"There," growled Spawn. "You will and you won't: we shall see about that. Lie still, Jetta. If I have need to come again to you—"
They left her. And this time she heard them less clearly. But there were fragments:
Perona: "I will meet him again. After dark, to-night. Yes, he expects me. For his money, Spawn, his pay in advance. This De Boer works not for nothing."
Spawn: "You will arrange about your police on the streets? He can get here to my house safely?"
"Oh yes, at the tri-evening hour, certainly before midnight, before the attack on the mine. You must stay here, Spawn. Pretend to be asleep: it will lure the fool Americano out in to the moonlight."
* * * * *
Jetta could piece it together fairly well. They would have De Boer come and abduct me. Not tell him I was a government agent, with the micro-safety alarm which they suspected I carried, but just tell De Boer that I was a rich American, who could be abducted and held for a big ransom.
Perona's voice rose with a fragment: "If he springs his alarm, here in the moonlight, you can be here, Spawn, and pretend to try and rescue him. A radio-image of that flashed to Hanley's office will exonerate us of suspicion."
Perona would promise De Boer that the Nareda government would pay the ransom quickly, collecting it later from the United States.
Spawn said, "You think De Boer will believe that?"
"Why should he not? I am skilful at persuasion, no? Let him find out later that the United States Government trackers are after him!" Perona cackled at the thought of it. "What of that? Let him kill this Grant. All the better."
Spawn said abruptly: "The United States may catch De Boer. Have you thought of that, Perona? The fellow would not shield us, but would tell everything."
"And who will believe him? The wild tale of a trapped bandit! Against your word, Spawn? You, an honest and wealthy mine owner? And I—I, Greko Perona, Minister of Internal Affairs of the Sovereign Power of Nareda! Who will dare to give me the lie because a bandit tells a wild tale with no real facts to prop it?"
"Those police guards at the mine to-night?"
"Admit that they took your bribes? You are witless, Spawn! Let them but admit it to me and of a surety I will fling them into imprisonment! Now listen with care, for the after noon is going...."
Their voices lowered, then faded, and Jetta was left alone and helpless. Spawn went back to the mine to meet me. We returned and had supper, Jetta could dimly hear us.
* * * * *
There was silence about the house during the mid-evening. I had slipped out and followed Perona to his meeting with De Boer. Then Spawn had discovered my absence and had rushed to join Perona and tell him.
But Jetta knew nothing of this. The hour of her tryst with me was approaching. In the darkness of her room as she lay bound and gagged on her couch, she could see the fitful moonlight rising to illumine the window oval.
She squirmed at the cords holding her, but could not loosen them. They cut into her flesh; her limbs were numb.
The evening wore on. Would I come to the garden tryst?
Jetta could not break her bonds. But gradually she had mouthed the gag loose. Then she heard my hurried footsteps in the patio; then my tense voice.
And at her answer I was pounding on her door. But it had been stoutly sealed by Spawn. I flung my shoulder against it, raging, thumping. But the heavy metal panels would not yield; the seal held intact.
"Philip, run away! They want to catch you! De Boer, the bandit, is coming!"
"I know it!"
Fool that I was, to pause with talk! There was no time: I must get Jetta out of here. Break down this door.
But it would not yield. A gas torch would melt this outer seal. Was there a torch here at Spawn's? But I had no time to search for a torch! Or a bar with which to ram this door—
A panic seized me, with the fresh realization that any instant De Boer and his men would arrive. I beat with futile fists on the door, and Jetta from within, calling to me to get away before I was caught.
This accursed door between us!
* * * * *
And then—after no more than half a minute, doubtless—I thought of the window. My momentary panic left me. I dashed to the window oval. Sealed. But the shutter curtain, and the glassite pane behind it, were fragile.
"Jetta, are you near the window?"
"No. On the bed. They have tied me."
"Look out; I'm breaking through!"
There were loose rocks, as large as my head, set to mark the garden path. I seized one and hurled it. With a crash it went through the window and fell to the floor of the room. A jagged hole showed.
"All right, Jetta?"
"Yes! Yes, Philip."
I squirmed through the oval and dropped to the floor. My arms were cut from the jagged glassite, though I did not know it then. It was dim inside the room, but I could see the outline of the bed with her lying on it.
Her ankles and wrists were tied. I cut the cords with my knife.
She was gasping. "They're planning to capture you. Philip! You should not be here! Get away!"
"Yes. But I'm going to take you with me. Can you stand up?"
* * * * *
I set her on her feet in the center of the room. A shaft of moonlight was coming through the hole in the window.
"Philip! You're bleeding!"
"It is nothing. Cut myself on the glassite. Can you stand alone?"
But her legs, stiffened and numb from having been bound so many hours, bent under her. I caught her as she was falling.
"I'll be—all right in a minute. But Philip, if you stay here—"
"You're going with me!"
I could carry her, if she could not run. But it would be slow; and it would be difficult to get her through the window. And on the street we would attract too much attention.
"Jetta, try to stand. Stamp your feet. I'll hold you."
I steadied her. Then I bent down, chafing her legs with my hands. Her arms had been limp, but the blood was in them now. She murmured with the tingling pain, and then bent over, frantically helping me rub the circulation back into her legs.
"Yes." She took a weak and trembling step.
"Wait. Let me rub them more, Jetta."
"I'll knock out the rest of the window with that rock! We'll run; we'll be out of here in a moment."
"Away. Into hiding—out of all this. The United States patrol-ship is coming from Porto Rico. It will take us from here."
"Away. To Great New York, maybe. Away from all this; from that old fossil, Perona."
I was stooping beside her.
"I'm all right now, Philip."
I rose up, and suddenly found myself clasping her in my arms; her slight body in the boy's ragged garb pressed against me.
"Jetta, dear, do you trust me? Will you come?"
"Yes. Oh, yes—anywhere, Philip, with you."
* * * * *
For only a breathless instant I lingered, holding her. Then I cast her off and seized the rock from the floor. The jagged glassite fell away under my blows.
"Now, Jetta. I'll go first—"
But it was too late! I stopped, stricken by the sound of a voice outside!
"He's there! In the girl's room! That's her window!"
Cautious voices in the garden! The thud of approaching footsteps.
I shoved Jetta back and rushed to the broken window oval. The figures of De Boer and his men showed in the moonlight across the patio. They had heard me breaking the glassite. And they saw me, now.
"There he is, De Boer!"
We were trapped!
The Murder in the Garden
"Hans, keep back! I will go!"
"Armed? The hell he is not! Spawn said no. Spawn! Where is Spawn? He was here."
I had dropped back from the window, and, gripping Jetta, stood in the center of the room.
"There's no other way out of here?"
Only the heavy sealed door, and this broken window. The bandits in the garden had paused at sight of me. Someone had called.
"He may be armed, De Boer."
They had stopped their forward rush and darted into the shelter of the pergola. I might be armed!
We could hear their low voices not ten feet from us. But I was not armed, except for my knife. Futile weapon, indeed.
"Jetta, keep back. If they should fire—"
* * * * *
I got a look through the oval. De Boer was advancing upon it, with his barreled projector half levelled. He saw me again. He called:
"You American, come out!"
I crouched on the floor, pushing Jetta back to where the shadows of the bed hid her.
He was close outside the window. "Come out—or I am coming in!"
I said abruptly, "Come!"
My blade was in my hand. If he showed himself I could slash his throat, doubtless. But what about Jetta? My thoughts flashed upon the heels of my defiant invitation. Suppose, as De Boer climbed in the window, I killed him? I could not escape, and his infuriated fellows would rush us, firing through the oval, sweeping the room, killing us both. But Jetta now was in no danger. Her father was outside, and these bandits were her father's friends. I would have to yield.
I called, louder, "Why don't you come in?"
Could I hold them off? Frighten them off, for a time, and make enough noise so that perhaps someone passing in the nearby street would give the alarm and bring help?
There was a sudden silence in the patio. The bandits had so far made as little commotion as possible. Presently I could hear their low voices.
* * * * *
I heard an oath. De Boer's head and shoulders appeared in the window oval! His levelled projector came through. Perhaps he would not have fired, but I did not dare take the chance. I was crouching almost under the muzzle, so I straightened, gripped it, and flung it up. I then slashed at his face with my knife, but he gripped my wrist with powerful fingers. My knife fell as he twisted my wrist. His projector had not fired. It was jammed between us. One of his huge arms reached in and encircled me.
He muttered it, but I shouted, "Fool! De Boer, the bandit!"
I was aware of a commotion out in the garden.
"... Bring all Nareda on our ears? De Boer, shut him up!"
I was gripping the projector, struggling to keep its muzzle pointed upwards. With a heave of his giant arms De Boer lifted me and jerked me bodily through the window. I fell on my feet, still fighting. But other hands seized me. It was no use. I yielded suddenly. I panted:
They held me. One of them growled. "Another shout and we will leave you here dead. Commander, look!"
My shirt was torn open. The electrode band about my chest was exposed! De Boer towered head and shoulders over me. I gazed up, passive in the grip of two or three of his men, and saw his face. His heavy jaw dropped as he gazed at my little diaphragms, the electrode.
He knew now for the first time that this was no private citizen he had assaulted. This official apparatus meant that I was a Government agent.
* * * * *
There was an instant of shocked silence. An expression grim and furious crossed the giant bandit's face.
"So this is it? Hans, careful—hold him!"
Jetta was still in her room, silent now. I heard Spawn's voice, close at hand in the patio.
"De Boer! Careful!" It was the most cautious of half-whispers.
Abruptly someone reached for my chest; jerked at the electrode; tore its fragile wires—the tiny grids and thumbnail amplifiers; jerked and ripped and flung the whole little apparatus to the garden path. But it sang its warning note as the wires broke. Up in Great New York Hanley knew then that catastrophe had fallen upon me.
For a brief instant the crestfallen bandit mumbled at what he had done. Then came Spawn's voice:
"Got him, De Boer? Good!"
Triumphant Spawn! He advanced across the garden with his heavy tread. And to me, and I am sure to De Boer as well, there came the swift realization that Spawn had been hiding safely in the background. But my detector was smashed now. It might have imaged De Boer assailing me: but now that it was smashed, Spawn could act freely.
"Good! So you have him! Make away to the mine!"
I did not see De Boer's face at that instant. But I saw his weapon come up—an act wholly impulsive, no doubt. A flash of fury!
He levelled the projector, not at me, but at the on-coming Spawn.
"You damn liar!"
"De Boer—" It was a scream of terror from Spawn. But it came too late. The projector hissed; spat its tiny blue puff. The needle drilled Spawn through the heart. He toppled, flung up his arms, and went down, silently, to sprawl on his face across the garden path.
* * * * *
De Boer was cursing, startled at his own action. The men holding me tightened their grip. I heard Jetta cry out, but not at what had happened in the garden: she was unaware of that. One of the bandits had left the group and climbed into her room. Her cry now was suppressed, as though the man's hand went over her mouth. And in the silence came his mumbled voice:
"Shut up, you!"
There was the sound of a scuffle in there. I tore at the men holding me.
"Let me go! Jetta! Come out!"
De Boer dashed for the window. I was still struggling. A hand cuffed me in the face. A projector rammed into my side.
"Stop it, fool American!"
De Boer came back with a chastened bandit ahead of him. The man was muttering and rubbing his shoulder, and De Boer said:
"Try anything like that again, Cartner, and I won't be so easy on you."
De Boer was dragging Jetta, holding her by a wrist. She looked like a terrified, half-grown boy, so small was she beside this giant. But the woman's lines of her, and the long dark hair streaming about her white face and over her shoulders, were unmistakable.
"His daughter." De Boer was chuckling. "The little Jetta."
* * * * *
All this had happened in certainly no more than five minutes. I realized that no alarm had been raised: the bandits had managed it all with reasonable quiet.
There were six of the bandits here, and De Boer, who towered over us all. I saw him now as a swaggering giant of thirty-odd, with a heavy-set smooth-shaved, handsome face.
He held Jetta off. "Damn, how you have grown, Jetta."
Someone said, "She knows too much."
And someone else, "We will take her with us. If you leave her here, De Boer—"
"Why should I leave her? Why? Leave her—for Perona?"
Then I think that for the first time Jetta saw her father's body lying sprawled on the path. She cried, "Philip!" Then she half turned and murmured: "Father!"
She wavered, almost falling. "Father—" She went down, fainting, falling half against me and against De Boer, who caught her slight body in his arms.
"Come, we'll get back. Drag him!"
"But you can't carry that girl out like that, De Boer."
"Into the house: there is an open door. Hans, go out and bring the car around to this side. Give me the cloaks. There is no alarm yet."
De Boer chuckled again. "Perona was nice to keep the police off this street to-night!"
We went into the kitchen. An auto-car, which to the village people might have been there on Spawn's mining business, slid quietly up to the side entrance. A cloak was thrown over Jetta. She was carried like a sack and put into the car.
I suddenly found an opportunity to break loose. I leaped and struck one of the men. But the others were too quickly on me. The kitchen table went over with a crash.
Then something struck me on the back of the head: I think it was the handle of De Boer's great knife. The kitchen and the men struggling with me faded. I went into a roaring blackness.
Aboard the Bandit Flyer
I was dimly conscious of being inside the cubby of the car, with bandits sitting over me. The car was rolling through the village streets. Ascending. We must be heading for Spawn's mine. I thought of Jetta. Then I heard her voice and felt her stir beside me.
The roaring in my head made everything dreamlike. I sank half into unconsciousness again. It seemed an endless interval, with only the muttering hiss of the car's mechanism and the confused murmurs of the bandits' voices.
Then my strength came. The cold sweat on me was drying in the night breeze that swept through the car as it climbed the winding ascent. I could see through its side oval a vista of bloated Lowland crags with moonlight on them.
It seemed that we should be nearly to the mine. We stopped. The men in the car began climbing out.
De Boer's voice: "Is he conscious now? I'll take the girl."
Someone bent over me. "You hear me?"
"Yes," I said.
I found myself outside the car. They held me on my feet. Someone gratuitously cuffed me, but De Boer's voice issued a sharp, low-toned rebuke.
"Stop it! Get him and the girl aboard."
* * * * *
There seemed thirty or forty men gathered here. Silent dark figures in black robes. The moonlight showed them, and occasionally one flashed a hand search-beam. It was De Boer's main party gathered to attack the mine.
I stood wavering on my feet. I was still weak and dizzy, with a lump on the back of my head where I had been struck. The scene about me was at first unfamiliar. We were in a rocky gully. Rounded broken walls. Caves and crevices. Dried ooze piled like a ramp up one side. The moonlight struggled down through a gathering mist overhead.
I saw, presently, where we were. Above the mine, not below it: and I realized that the car had encircled the mine's cauldron and climbed to a height beyond it. Down the small gully I could see where it opened into the cauldron about a hundred feet below us. The lights of the mine winked in the blurred moonlight shadows.
The bandits led me up the gully. The car was left standing against the gully side where it had halted. De Boer, or one of his men, was carrying Jetta.
The flyer was here. We came upon it suddenly around a bend in the gully. Although I had only seen the nose if it earlier in the evening. I recognized this to be the same. It was in truth a strange looking flyer: I had never seen one quite like it. Barrel-winged, like a Jantzen: multi-propellored: and with folding helicopters for the vertical lifts and descent. And a great spreading fan-tail, in the British fashion. It rested on the rocks like a fat-winged bird with its long cylindrical body puffed out underneath. A seventy-foot cabin: fifteen feet wide, possibly. A line of small window-portes; a circular glassite front to the forward control-observatory cubby, with the propellors just above it, and the pilot cubby up there behind them. And underneath the whole, a landing gear of the Fraser-Mood springed-cushion type: and an expanding, air-coil pontoon-bladder for landing upon water.
* * * * *
All this was usual enough. Yet, with the brief glimpses I had as my captors hurried me toward the landing incline, I was aware of something very strange about this flyer. It was all dead black, a bloated-bellied black bird. The moonlight struck it, but did not gleam or shimmer on its black metal surface. The cabin window-portes glowed with a dim blue-gray light from inside. But as I chanced to gaze at one a green film seemed to cross it like a shade, so that it winked and its light was gone. Yet a hole was there, like an eye-socket. An empty green hole.
We were close to the plane now, approaching the bottom of the small landing-incline. The wing over my head was like a huge fat barrel cut length-wise in half. I stared up; and suddenly it seemed that the wing was melting. Fading. Its inner portion, where it joined the body, was clear in the moonlight. But the tips blurred and faded. An aspect curiously leprous. Uncanny. Gruesome.
They took me up the landing-incline. A narrow vaulted corridor ran length-wise of the interior, along one side of the cabin body. To my left as we headed for the bow control room, the corridor window-portes showed the rocks outside. To the right of the corridor, the ship's small rooms lay in a string. A metal interior. I saw almost nothing save metal in various forms. Grid floor and ceiling. Sheet metal walls and partitions. Furnishings and fabrics, all of spun metal. And all dead black.
We entered the control room. The two men holding me flung me in a chair. I had been searched. They had taken from me the tiny, colored magnesium light-flashes. How easy for the plans of men to go astray! Hanley and I had arranged that I was to signal the Porto Rican patrol-ship with those flares.
"Sit quiet!" commanded my guard.
I retorted, "If you hit me again, I won't."
* * * * *
De Boer came in, carrying Jetta. He put her in a chair near me, and she sat huddled tense. In the dim gray light of the control room her white face with its big staring dark eyes was turned toward me. But she did not speak, nor did I.
The bandits ignored us. De Boer moved about the room, examining a bank of instruments. Familiar instruments, most of them. The usual aero-controls and navigational devices. A radio audiphone transmitter and receiver, with its attendant eavesdropping cut-offs. And there was an ether-wave mirror-grid. De Boer bent over it. And then I saw him fastening upon his forehead an image-lens. He said:
"You stay here, Hans. You and Gutierrez. Take care of the girl and this fellow Grant. Don't hurt them."
Gutierrez was a swarthy Latin American. He smiled. "For why would I hurt him? You say he is worth much money to us, De Boer. And the girl, ah—"
De Boer towered over him. "Just lay a finger on her and you will regret it, Gutierrez! You stay at your controls. Be ready. This affair it will take no more than half an hour."
A man came to the control room entrance. "You come, Commander?"
"Yes. Right at once."
"The men are ready. From the mine we might almost be seen here. This delay—"
* * * * *
But he lingered a moment more. "Hans, my finder will show you what I do. Keep watch. When we come back, have all ready for flight. This Grant had an alarm-detector. Heaven only knows what eavesdropping and relaying he has done. And for sure there is hell now in Spawn's garden. The Nareda police are there, of course. They might track us up here."
He paused before me. "I think I would not cause trouble, Grant."
"I'm not a fool."
"Perhaps not." He turned to Jetta. "No harm will come to you. Fear nothing."
He wound his dark cloak about his giant figure and left the control room. In a moment, through the rounded observing pane beside me, I saw him outside on the moonlit rocks. His men gathered about him. There were forty of them, possibly, with ten or so left here aboard to guard the flyer.
And in another moment the group of dark-cloaked figures outside crept off in single file like a slithering serpent, moving down the rock defile toward where in the cauldron pit the lights of the mine shone on its dark silent buildings.
The Attack on the Mine
There was a moment when I had an opportunity to speak with Jetta. Gutierrez sat watchfully by the archway corridor entrance with a needle projector across his knees. The fellow Hans, a big, heavy-set half-breed Dutchman with a wide-collared leather jerkin and wide, knee-length pantaloons, laid his weapon carefully aside and busied himself with his image mirror. There would soon be images upon it, I knew: De Boer had the lens-finder on his forehead, and the scenes at the mine, as De Boer saw them would be flashed back to us here.
This Gutierrez was very watchful. A move on my part and I knew he would fling a needle through me.
My thoughts flew. Hanley had notified Porto Rico. The patrol-ship had almost enough time to get here by now.
I felt Jetta plucking at me. She whispered:
"They have gone to attack the mine."
"I heard it planned. Senor Perona—"
Her hurried whispers told me further details of Perona's scheme. So this was a pseudo attack! Perona would take advantage of it and hide the quicksilver. De Boer would return presently and escape. And hold me for ransom. I chuckled grimly. Not so easy for a bandit, even one as clever as De Boer at hiding in the Lowland depths to arrange a ransom for an agent of she United States. Our entire Lowland patrol would be after him in a day.
* * * * *
Jetta's swift whispers made it all clear to me. It was Perona's scheme.
She ended, "And my father—" Her voice broke; her eyes flooded suddenly with tears "Oh, Philip, he was good to me, my poor father."
I saw that the mirror before Hans was glowing with its coming image. I pressed Jetta's hand.
One does not disparage the dead. I could not exactly subscribe to Jetta's appraisal of her parent, but I did not say so.
"Jetta, the mirror is on."
I turned away from her toward the instrument table. Gutierrez at the door raised his weapon. I said hastily, "Nothing. I—we just want to see the mirror."
I stood beside Hans. He glanced at me and I tried to smile ingratiatingly.
"This attack will be successful, eh, Hans?"
"Damn. I hope so."
The mirror was glowing. Hans turned a switch to dim the tube-lights of the room so that we might see the images better. It brought a protest from Gutierrez.
I swung around. "I'm not a fool! You can see me perfectly well: kill me if I make trouble. I want to see the attack."
"Por Dios, if you try anything—"
"Shut!" growled Hans. "The audiphone is on. The big adventure—and the commander—leaves me here just to watch!"
* * * * *
A slit in the observatory pane was open. The dark figure of one of the bandits on guard outside came and called softly up to us.
"Should it go wrong, call out."
"Yes. But it will not."
"There was an alarm, relayed probably to Great New York, the commander said, from Spawn's garden. These cursed prisoners—"
"Shut! You keep watch out there. It is starting."
The guard slunk away. My attention went back to the mirror. An image was formed there now, coming from the eye of the lens upon De Boer's forehead. It swayed with his walking. He was evidently leading his men, for none of them were in the scene. The dark rocks were moving past. The lights of the mine were ahead and below, but coming nearer.
The audiphone hummed and crackled. And through it, De Boer's low-voiced command sounded:
"To the left Is the better path. Keep working to the left."
The image of the rocks and the mine swung with a dizzying sweep as De Boer turned about. Then again he was creeping forward.
The mine lights came closer. De Beer's whispered voice said: "There they are!"
* * * * *
I could see the lights of the mine's guards flash on. A group of Spawn's men gathered before the smelter building. The challenge sounded.
"Who are you? Stop!"
And De Boer's murmur: "That is correct, as Perona said. They expect us. Well," he ended with a sardonic laugh, "expect us."
His projector went up. He fired. In the silence of the control room we could hear the audiphoned hiss of it, and see the flash in the mirror-scene. He had fired into the air.
Again his low voice to his men: "Hold steady. They will run."
The group of figures at the smelter separated, waved and scattered back into the deeper shadows. Their hand-lights were extinguished, but the moonlight caught and showed them. They were running away; hiding in the crags. They fired a shot or two, high in the air.
De Boer was advancing swiftly now. The image swayed and shifted, raised and lowered rhythmically as he ran. And the dark shape of the smelter building loomed large as he neared it.
I felt Jetta beside me: heard her whisper: "Why, he should attack and then come back! Greko told my father—"
But De Boer was not coming back! He was dashing for the smelter entrance. Spawn's guards must have known then that there was something wrong. Their shots hissed, still fired high, and our grid sounded their startled shouts. Then as De Boer momentarily turned his head, I saw what was taking place to the side of him. A detachment of the bandits had followed the retreating guards. The bandits' shots were levelled now. Dim stabs of light in the gloom. One of the guards screamed as he was struck.
* * * * *
The attack was real! But it was over in a moment. Spawn's men, those who were not struck down, plunged away and vanished. Perona had disconnected the mine's electrical safeguards. The smelter door was sealed, but it gave before the blows of a metal bar two of De Boer's men were carrying.
In the unguarded, open strong-room, Perona, alone, was absorbed in his task of carrying the ingots of quicksilver down into the hidden compartment beneath its metal floor.
Our mirror was vague and dim now with a moving interior of the main smelter room as De Boer plunged through. At the strong-room entrance he paused, with his men crowding behind him. The figure of Perona showed in the vague light: he was stooping under the weight of one of the little ingots. Beside him yawned the small trap-opening leading downward.
He saw De Boer. He straightened, startled, and then shouted with a terrified Spanish oath. De Boer's projector was levelled: the huge, foreshortened muzzle of it blotted out half our image. It hissed its puff of light—a blinding flash on our mirror—in the midst of which the dark shape of Perona's body showed as it crumpled and fell. Like Spawn, he met instant death.
Jetta was gripping me. "Why—" Gutierrez was with us. Hans was bending forward, watching the mirror. He muttered, "Got him!"
I saw a chance to escape, and pulled at Jetta. But at once Gutierrez stepped backward.
"Like him I will strike you dead!" he said.
* * * * *
No chance of escape. I had thought Gutierrez absorbed by the mirror, but he was not. I protested vehemently:
"I haven't moved, you fool. I have no intention of moving."
And now De Boer and his men were carrying up the ingots. A man for each bar. A confusion of blurred swaying shapes, and low-voiced, triumphant murmurs from our disc.
Then De Boer was outside the smelter house, and we saw a little queue of the bandits carrying the treasure up the defile. Coming back here to the flyer. There was no pursuit; the mine guards were gone.
The triumphant bandits would be here in a few moments.
"Ave Maria, que magnifico!" Gutierrez had retreated to our doorway, more alert than ever upon me and Jetta. Hans called through the window-slit:
"All is well, Franks!"
"Yes! Make ready."
There was a stir outside as several of the bandits hastened down the defile to meet De Boer. And the tread of others, inside the flyer at their posts, preparing for hasty departure.
Hans snapped off the audiphone and mirror. He bent over his control panel. "All is well, Gutierrez. In a moment we start."
Through the observatory window I saw the line of De Boer's men coming: Abruptly Hans gave a cry. "Look!"
* * * * *
A glow was in the room. A faint aura of light. And our disconnected instruments were crackling, murmuring with interference. Eavesdropping waves were here! Hans realised it: so did I.
But there was no need for theory. From outside came shouts.
The ship, suddenly exposing its lights, was perfectly visible above us. Five thousand feet up, possibly. A tiny silver bird in the moonlight: but even with the naked eye I could see by its light pattern that it was the official Porto Rican patrol-liner. It saw us down here: recognized this bandit flyer, no doubt.
And it was coming down!
There was a confusion as the bandits rushed aboard. The patrol was dropping in a swift spiral. I watched tensely, holding Jetta, with the turmoil of the embarking bandits around me. Gutierrez stood with levelled weapon.
"They have not moved, Commander."
De Boer was here. The treasure was aboard.
"Ready, Hans. Lift us."
The landing portes clanged as they closed. Hans shoved at his switches. I heard the helicopter engines thumping. A vertical lift: there was no space in this rocky defile for any horizontal take-away.
He was very calm, this De Boer. He sat in a chair at a control-bank of instruments unfamiliar to me.
"Full power, Hans: I tell you. Lift us!"
* * * * *
The ship was quivering. We lifted. The rocks of the gully dropped away. But the patrol-ship was directly over us. Was De Boer rushing into a collision?
"Now, forward, Hans."
We poised for the level flight. Did De Boer think he could out-distance this patrol-ship, the swiftest type of flyer in the Service? I knew that was impossible.
The silver ship overhead was circling, watchful. And as we levelled for forward flight it shot a warning searchlight beam down across our bow, ordering us to land.
De Boer laughed. "They think they have us!"
I saw his hand go to a switch. A warning siren resounded through our corridor, warning the bandits of De Boer's next move. But I did not know it then: the thing caught me unprepared.
De Boer flung another switch. My senses reeled. I heard Jetta cry out. My arm about her tightened.
A moment of strange whirling unreality. The control room seemed fading about me. The tube-lights dimmed. A green glow took their place—a lurid sheen in which the cubby and the tense faces of De Boer and Hans showed with ghastly pallor. Everything was unreal. The voices of De Boer and Hans sounded with a strange tonelessness. Stripped of the timber that made one differ from the other. Hollow ghosts of human voices. By the sound I could not tell which was De Boer and which was Hans.
The corridor was dark; all the lights on the ship faded into this horrible dead green. The window beside me had a film on it. A dead, dark opening where moonlight had been. Then I realized that I was beginning to see through it once more. Starlight. Then the moonlight.
We had soared almost level with the descending patrol-ship. We went past it, a quarter of a mile away. Went past, and it did not follow. It was still circling.
* * * * *
I knew then what had happened. And why this bandit ship had seemed of so strange an aspect. We were invisible! At four hundred yards, even in the moonlight, the patrol could not distinguish us. Only ten of these X-flyers were in existence: they were the closest secret of the U. S. Anti-War Department. No other government had them except in impractical imitations. I had never even seen one before.
But this bandit ship was one. And I recalled that a year ago, a suppressed dispatch intimated that the Service had lost one—wrecked in the Lowlands and never found.
So this was that lost invisible flyer? De Boer, using it for smuggling, with Perona and Spawn as partners. And now, De Boer making away in it with Spawn's treasure!